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MATURE: Miscellaneous TPP stories

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Thank you for the feedback, I'm very glad to hear you enjoyed Metanoia. I like it a lot myself.

My suggestion for these lengthy arguments with himself would be to italicize the criticisms, to help differentiate which side of his mind is speaking.
I did consider that when writing as I occasionally confused even myself on which side was talking, but I ultimately decided against it, as italicized text made it seem weaker to me, and this side of Red was strong and big enough to win over the other in the end.

I admit, I was worried when I read this line. I hate reading things that say stuff like this. But then I realized, the same thing is happening in the backburner plot I'm writing for my own story, so... consider me intrigued. Maybe there's some inspiration in here for me, in terms of the mentality of the people who think this and god forbid, actually do it.
good thing red's only after beautiful women which means i'm hella safe ayyyyyy

I love it when my work inspires others, even if I've only heard that happen once before this.

Wait, is this guy just walking around with a deadly weapon at his side, greeting guests who come to his house? Does nobody find this the least bit suspicious?
That's true... but I did also have this exact same reaction when I found out how commonplace gun ownership is in the US compared to my country. Given that, iirc, the whole right to bear arms was influenced a lot by the number of dangerous buffalo roaming about, it could be that Kanto also allows its citizens to have some personal protection, as wild magical monsters live in about every nook and cranny. wait did i just describe kanto or australia

This might just be personal preference (I don't know the strict rules of English despite it being my only language), but I feel like switching that highlighted "to" to "of" would make this sentence flow a bit nicer.
I'll definitely take your word for it, prepositions are my weakest point in English.
 
shame personified
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Hiya! Like Misfit Angel said, I read Prayer and Night One. :)

PRAYER

The wet snow splats onto the kitchen window. The sky is gray, the street a dirty brown. The neighboring houses are shrouded in a cold, translucent mist.
So, I really like the opening description here, although I wonder if it'd do better with a different structure. As it stands, it mostly feels like a list and weakens the tone you're trying to set here. Easiest way to avoid this is to not have all the sentences start with "the".

Yes, it’s humid, and yes, it’s depressing, but the weather is the least of my worries. I have a far more distressing, pestering, constricting problem.
Still, a really nice transition into first person narration here. Overall, a super strong opening. :D

That's when the thoughts tap on my shoulder and begin whispering.
Mm, I like the personification you give thoughts here. It really adds to the impact of Red's stress.

Weak is what I call myself when I get close to losing control. When I want to do things without caring for their consequences.
There's a good amount of realistic depth to Red's character added here. Being "weak" can mean something for everyone, and it's clearly defined for him here.

I don't like that method. It feels irresponsible.
Though at this point, I'd say it's probably actually a little misleading to begin with description since there's such a long gap between the intro and the tree stabbing scene.

Rapidash hooves. When struck together, they produce sparks that can recreate the mon’s mystical fire.
Really like the worldbuilding here and how it's connected to Red defying rules and lore - seems it's a common theme for him - unless Lord Helix is involved, of course. ;)

Now there’s a thought… Doctor Akai. Someone who'd cure people.

Maybe in a timeline where I never dropped out of school, where people didn’t enrage me as much, that would be a reality.
I don't know, I get the feeling he'd still be far too in love with maiming others. School seems to have little to do with it.

Still, I should speed things up...
These kinds of lines really show just how dissatisfied Red always seems to be with what he's doing. The dude never seems happy, does he? :p Always berating himself for one thing or another.

The pressure of HIS stare overwhelms my arms and they fail beneath me. I fortunately still manage to shield my face before it hits the floor tiles.
I think my main complaint with this one-shot is that I don't quite get a good picture of the scenery is here... Not sure if that's intentional, given the obvious disconnect between Lord Helix and Red, but I have no idea where Lord Helix is, what he looks like (normal omanyte form or something else or what), et cetera.

“My lord… What do YOU mean?”

HE does not think I’m…

Did I understand that right? I’m not cruel enough?

Oh, HE must just mean that I haven't killed enough. That makes sense.
That said, Lord Helix not having an actual voice is an interesting, effective touch here. It shows just how big the distance between them is, with Red trying to please him and then Lord Helix not even having much of a presence as he does in other fics of yours in response.

“YOU and I will kill like wild mon, with no fear of consequence.”
This felt a tad off to me - I don't see Red reducing himself or his god to a mere animal with nothing but killing instincts to work off of.

NIGHT ONE

He and I both know full well that I'm not the clumsy human in this household, but my weapon isn’t argumentation. Rather, I’ll initiate a tug of war of stubbornness, and I’ll win, as I always do.
Seems these both have a bit of a rough opening. :p I'm not sure what "my weapon isn't argumentation" is referring to, since the second sentence seems to refer to, well, arguing and reasoning, just in a deceitful sort of way.

He stays quiet. Odd. I didn’t expect a throwaway line like that to finish this.
I'm surprised Red isn't more suspicious of Abe just moving on here, to be honest. I understand the relief, though, and I suppose Red doesn't have time to observe Abe and see if he's suspicious since the conversation picks up shortly afterward, anyway.

As my foot pushes the cupboard door shut, a victorious thump rings out and I can swing around to breath in some non-noxious air.
"Breath" should be "breathe" - the one and only typo I spotted. :p

“I’m throwing out some of my old stuff, too.”

“Shouldn’t you recycle them?”

“They’re all broken.”
It's a tad unclear why Abe assumes recycling here?

Splat. Face first into the mud. I’d smirk, but I don't want to push my luck. The rope has started to chafe my palms, and while I’d hold on to barbed wire to protect my secret, my hands are currently required elsewhere.
Just like Red to mix fantasy with reality here in such a bleak way. >_>

I know he doesn’t know. I know I specifically keep the real Red a tightly monitored secret. But two years later and he still doesn’t understand that I’m nothing without Him?
Sounds like Abe still suspects something, at the very least. xD But just Abe telling Red this in a "sympathetic" tone means he knows Lord Helix means something to Red, although maybe not the extent to which he should.

Nighttime.

The city’s lights, like jewels of many colors, seem to go on towards infinity. But it's an illusion - upon closer inspection, I can recognize the gleaming spots highest up as stars.
Really like the transition and description here, guh. <3 In general, all of the description in this scene was top notch until Red got spotted and called a killer up front. Not that the description was bad after that, just that that particular part of the scene was particularly stellar.

Her neck. So thin, so petite. How has she even survived until this moment with a neck that so begs to be strangled?
Well, probably because there's not many people like you running around, Red... :p

“You’re a killer, Red,” he growls and bares his teeth. He approaches me, snarling like a wild mon.
I know this dude's angry, but this is a good way for him to get killed. :p I'm surprised Red doesn't have some internal monologue about taking advantage of that.

Sure, He’ll be terrified. Disgusted, disturbed. But He’ll accept it. Eventually. He has to. He can’t leave me. I won’t let him.
This goes to show how Red's loyalty only extends insofar as he wants it to. The moment he's being betrayed, screw what Lord Helix wants. That's... actually pretty relatable. I like it. :D

Overall, my complaints are pretty minor, as usual. Your writing style continues to impress me, and seems every time I read, I learn something a little bit new about Red. That's not something I can say about a lot of characters.
 
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Forums are finally back, so I can finally respond. Thank you very much for your thoughts!

So, I really like the opening description here, although I wonder if it'd do better with a different structure. As it stands, it mostly feels like a list and weakens the tone you're trying to set here. Easiest way to avoid this is to not have all the sentences start with "the".
Noted, didn't notice the repetitive structure myself.

I think my main complaint with this one-shot is that I don't quite get a good picture of the scenery is here... Not sure if that's intentional, given the obvious disconnect between Lord Helix and Red, but I have no idea where Lord Helix is, what he looks like (normal omanyte form or something else or what), et cetera.
Right, that. I did write this before I got a bunch of critique on the importance of description, but I did also intentionally leave out details, wanting to create a kind of otherworldly, mysterious and unsettling air to this place and this god. Back when writing this I was also kind of in the mindset that places familiar enough to Red shouldn't get description at all, as he wouldn't really stop to think about surrounding's he's seen time and time again.

However, since then I've realized that realistic doesn't always mean better, and lack of detail can make it a lot harder for the reader to really immerse. So this could use a touchup with a bit more description, I suppose.

Anyway, for clarification: HELIX here is in the form of a Helix Fossil hung on the wall above an altar. I don't think it can be deciphered from the text as is. Maybe it should be.

That said, Lord Helix not having an actual voice is an interesting, effective touch here. It shows just how big the distance between them is, with Red trying to please him and then Lord Helix not even having much of a presence as he does in other fics of yours in response.
I have HELIX not have a distinct voice as HE kind of gives HIS thoughts in a direct mental way which Red then interprets as the narrator.

"Breath" should be "breathe" - the one and only typo I spotted. :p
Ah, damn, this. "Breath/e" and "sheath/e" are probably my biggest typo pitfalls.

It's a tad unclear why Abe assumes recycling here?
I'm not sure what you mean by the question, but my intention was along the lines of:
red: i am throwing some of my old stuff in the garbage
abe: should you not recycle them instead by selling/giving them to others for further use
red: woe is me for i cannot, as all of the wares are broken and thus cannot be redistributed

Really like the transition and description here, guh. <3 In general, all of the description in this scene was top notch until Red got spotted and called a killer up front. Not that the description was bad after that, just that that particular part of the scene was particularly stellar.
I know this dude's angry, but this is a good way for him to get killed. :p I'm surprised Red doesn't have some internal monologue about taking advantage of that.
I really put my best into the dream scene's description as my goal was to make it play out exactly like a dream would. This is why the description is more abstract, some parts don't quite make sense and Red's judgment is impaired.
 
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@canisaries Woops, thought I replied to this already. XD To clarify, I took recycling to mean like putting that stuff in the recycle bin/separating from non-recyclable trash, not quite recycling in the sense of reusing old belongings. Hope that clears up my question there.
 
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UPDATE (18th July 2019): This oneshot's been revised! And not just lightly, either. This new version even has a considerably different ending, so even for the ones who read the old version, it could be worth checking out if you liked what you saw before. Also, I made new cover art. Enjoy!

Wow lads. It's been quite a while hasn't it. Anyway, as Hunter, Haunted has ended and the next project not fully planned out yet, I'm in that downtime which I can only fill with oneshots! Or maybe just this one. Idk how things will turn out yet.

This one's called Vivarium and it takes place during H,H (or does it?). It references its events somewhat, yes, but to any outsiders: don't be scared off from reading or reviewing. I'm still interested in hearing how this fares as a story beyond H,H.

Rated checks the updated rating guide I guess teen? I'm not sure whether it counts as having glorification of mental illness or not, and the violence isn't that gruesome (I mean, compared to my other works). Well, if you want it bumped up to mature, I hope you'll tell me. [edit: bumped up to mature]

Hope you still wanna read after that paragraph ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ok let's go

121167

---

Vivarium

Synopsis: The white cube, the rude staff, the black beast. Red initially thought it was a one-off nightmare. Initially.

---​

Am I awake?

Well, there’s a bed beneath me and a blanket over me. Seems like it. But it doesn’t feel like a full night has passed…

And what’s with the silence? The brightness? My vision glows red even with my eyes tightly shut. My room isn’t this bright, and I should hear the chirping of pidgey and spearow outside my window like I do each morning…

Oh no. I recognize this now.

I open my eyes and see exactly what I feared. White. White walls, white blanket, white pillow. Not any kind of cozy togepi-white. This white, covering every inch of this cube with nothing in it but this bed, is completely sterile.

So, I’m here again.

With a groan, I sit up. The flimsy sheet covering me falls down, revealing my new outfit - white clothing adorned with straps and belts here and there. None of them are fastened to restrict me, though, for which I thank my luck.

Still, this setting didn’t mean good things for me last time, so I doubt it will this time around. I should save myself the trouble and wake up.

I put my palms on the bed for support and proceed to shake my body like a dripping wet growlithe. Unfortunately, unlike water, the dream doesn’t simply fling away. And now my head is spinning and I need to stay still for a bit so my vestibular system can stop going haywire.

Whirrrrr…

Oh, that, yeah. Last time I had this nightmare, one of the walls scrolled up with loud whirring, and by the look of it, the same is happening now. The wall reaches its peak with a clank, and the soundscape returns to silence.

The opening reveals a gray-tiled hallway adjacent to my cube. One white door is embedded in the back of it. There could be more further along the hallway, but it’s not like I could go and look - there’s still a glass barrier in place of the wall that scrolled up. It’s practically invisible and the only reason I know it exists is because I found out the hard way last time.

Behind the glass stands a single person. A woman in a white coat, a headpiece and a surgical mask. A nurse of some kind. I can’t tell if she’s one of the three that appeared in the original dream, but she certainly looks as indistinct as them. Any possible features or clothing to tell her apart by are covered by her apparel.

“Morning, Akai,” she says. The tone is about as mechanical as most vending machines. Her eyes look through me, and while her mouth is covered by that mask, I can tell she isn’t smiling.

“I see I’m here again,” I state.

“You never left,” she responds with an equally monotonous voice. “It’s time for your breakfast.”

“Breakfast?” They’re going to feed me this time? Alright, I guess I’m a bit hungry. Wouldn’t hurt to get some grub.

The nurse moves to the edge of the glass to press something out of my sight. More whirring arises. A desk-height recess opens up in the cube wall nearest to the nurse, revealing a large plastic tube pointing downward and a simple red bowl lying underneath. The whirring ends to give way to a crackling noise from the tube. Soon after, dozens of brown pellets drop down, forming a moderately sized pile in the bowl.

This really surpassed my expectations.

I look the nurse right in her dark, dead eyes. “You can’t be serious.”

Her lack of reaction indicates that she indeed is.

“I’m not eating that,” I add.

“It has all the nutrients you need, as well as fiber and a good texture for your bowels and teeth,” the nurse says. “Really, it's convenient. Busy people would love to have such a --”

“Sh-sh-sh-shut up,” I interrupt, raising a finger. Her jaw clenches just a bit. “I’m not eating that.”

“You have to eat now,” she continues, “or you won't have food before your treatment.”

“Treatment?”

“Just something to help you feel better. Now, please eat.” She gestures to the bowl.

“No.”

After a few seconds of unbroken, silent eye contact, the nurse speaks again.

“You've made your choice.”

She glances at the hallway’s ceiling and nods. Before I can wonder what she meant for too long, a quiet fwip catches my ears and a stinging pain pricks the back of my neck. Hissing, I reach for the area and grasp something thin in my hand. I yank it out, wincing, and... bring it to… view. It's a… red dart…

...I feel tired…

---​

It’s… been a full night this time. I can feel it. It’s been hours since I last closed my eyes, I’m sure of it.

But the glow… it’s still there, and it’s still quiet, which means I’m still asleep. Because I’m in the cube and that means I’m asleep. Because the cube is a dream.

For a fraction of a second before I open my eyes, I hope to see the black nightstand and gray walls of my own modest but comfy room. Fortunately, I manage to kill that hope right before the inevitable disappointment sets in. And there it is - white. Just white.

A heavy sigh leaves my lungs. Inhaling afterwards, something twitches at the bottom left corner of my ribcage. Huh. A cramp, I guess.

Steps. Someone’s walking in the hallway. Now there’s whirring. They’re here for me.

The wall clanks fully open. I sit up, and my eyes meet those of a nurse behind the glass. The nurse from before, I think.

“Morning, Akai,” she says, delivery similar to last time. “Breakfast. Hope you’ll eat it this time.”

My pride immediately rejects the idea, but a strong hollow inside me suggests I should reconsider. I’m much hungrier than before.

But it doesn’t matter. This is still a dream. In real life, I’m not in any cube. I’m free, because I haven’t been caught. Sure, I came close, as a former victim happened to come back as a ghost and possess me, but she got exorcised out before she could make me spill anything. That adventure is now over, and I made sure to plug any possible leaks. I’ve been free from my possessor for a day already. Two days. Or one? I… can’t remember. Is this a different night than before?

No, no, it still doesn’t matter. It’s a dream and it has no bearing on reality, it only seems to be a recurring one. I just need to endure it until I wake up.

As the nurse presses the button again, I walk up to the glass. The recess in the wall opens up and the bits of kibble clatter into the red bowl. It seems that they emptied it overnight.

“Don’t I get a drink?” I ask the nurse. She’s starting to look less generic and more recognizable, even despite her rather covering getup. She’s got kind of a natu face.

“You use the sink for that,” she replies.

“The sink?”

She pushes another button and more whirring comes, this time from behind. A larger recess has opened there, one reaching the floor. Creeping closer, the interior becomes visible - there really is a sink, joined by a toilet and a shower, all on a tiled floor and naturally all white. The architecture of this place is beyond me.

“You were shown this yesterday,” the nurse says. “Don't you remember?”

“I can't remember anything since the last ‘breakfast’,” I reply, approaching the glass wall again. “What did I allegedly do during the rest of the day?”

“Not much. After your treatment, you were shown the ins and outs of your room, given you seemed to have forgotten it since the first time. After that, you ate your meals and used the bathroom obediently, but outside of those, you just sat around peacefully for the rest of the day. Seems like the treatment worked.” She switches her weight to her other leg. “But enough about that. You should eat your breakfast.”

A wave of hunger clutches my stomach again. I look at the red bowl and the pile of pellets within. Somehow, my mouth waters.

No, I’m not giving in. I’m not going to eat their shitty food, and certainly not from a bowl like some kind of poochy pup. This hunger is only a trick of my mind, and just like everything else here, it’s temporary.

Maybe getting shot by a dart like last time will wake me up. Even more reason not to eat. But to accelerate things, I should start acting up.

I get right up to the glass. “You know… there's something I'm wondering. Maybe you could help me find out?"

Her face stays neutral. "What's that?"

“Starting with the least vital, how many of your organs can I remove before you die?”

She tries to hide it, but I detect the faintest of flinches. I smirk. I knew there was a mareep beneath that cold exterior.

“Just imagine it. A blade slowly splitting your skin...” I draw my finger down across the glass, then reach forward with the full hand. “My hand slipping in and grabbing your uterus...”

Grrrhhh.

A growl. A deep, resounding one. It came from behind.

The nurse looks on in confusion at the sudden change in my air. The glass reflects my widened, nervous eyes. Something faint and yellow glints above it.

There’s nothing behind me that would make that kind of noise or reflection. Or there shouldn’t be. But I already know what it is, don’t I?

Breath shaking, I slowly turn around. The formerly uninterrupted white is now largely covered by black. Black that has fur, horns, claws, teeth and those unmistakable yellow rings that always seem to stare at me no matter how I move.

I should’ve expected it to show up.

“What is it?” the nurse asks. I look at her, but the beast growls again, yanking back my attention. I press my back against the glass.

The beast’s lips are pulled apart in a grinning snarl, showing its pale, veiny gums and jagged off-white teeth. A drop of sticky saliva hits the floor. It's hungry. And staring at me.

“Get me out of here,” I whisper.

“That's not happening,” the nurse says, indifferent.

“Are you blind?” I snap, but still keeping as quiet as possible. Sudden noises and wild predators don't mix.

The beast raises its paw, showing off its long, sharp talons, and takes a step towards me. My joints lock in place. Suddenly, its head turns to the right wall - to the recess with the bowl of food.

The creature huffs in air through its wet, scaly nose. It ambles to the bowl and sticks its snout right into the pile, making a few pellets overflow. The beast takes one last snort, then pulls away. Its tongue slips out to lick the nose. Something in its eyes lights up.

Its maw opens wide, and three slimy, black tendrils leap out. They wrap around the bowl and quickly pull back to the throat, allowing the beast to swallow the food in one go, bowl included. After this, it lazily returns to its original spot to lie down.

Once a few seconds have passed with the monster motionless, I dare to speak again.

“Well,” I whisper, heart racing, “that’s good. Now you can go get me some real food.”

“What do you mean?” she says. I wince at the volume.

“What do I mean?” I hiss. “Look at the… b-bea...”

Suddenly I feel... weird. Weird like… last time. Tired. My vision is darkening at… the edges… am I going to pass out?

A wheeze cuts the air. It came from the beast. It’s standing up again, mouth open and pointed at the ground.

Another wheeze. Its pupils lose focus. Gurgling comes from deep within its throat - followed by chunky, brown mush splatting down on the pure white floor. Wonderful.

“The cleaners would appreciate if you didn’t make such a mess,” the nurse comments.

“What?”

A whiff of the vomit reaches my face, making it implode in revulsion. I pinch my nose with my right hand and continue. “What was I supposed to do about that?”

“Use the toilet for it.”

“And how in the flying type fuck would that wor-”

Oh… I get it now.

“You’re saying I did that.”

“You did do that.”

“So can you not see the beast? Or are you just pretending not to, to fuck with me?”

She tilts her head. “Are you seeing things that aren’t there?”

I’m a second away from rejecting the idea until I stop. Illusion. This whole thing is an illusion, it’s a dream. How do I keep forgetting that?

So, she’s saying I’m seeing something fake while we’re inside something that’s also fake. But what if this room isn’t fake? I’ve woken up three times here by now. Did they really get me and the normal day I saw afterwards was the dream instead? Or a hallucination? Or what if this room is a dream, but isn’t recurring just by chance and is actually more of the ghost’s doing?

Not this again. I hate this. I hate having to guess what’s real and what isn’t.

“Well, you had your chance at breakfast, but couldn’t keep it in,” the nurse sighs, eager to leave me. “Goodbye.” She heads off, her steps echoing in the dark hall.

The noise catches the beast’s interest. It ceases its sniffing of the pungent puddle and raises its head to watch the human depart. Then it turns to me, separating its fuzzy lips and giving out a trilling exhalation. Fuck, it’s hungry again!

I need someplace to hide. The bed? The bed! I can squeeze underneath it. If I can get there in time.

I take a slow step towards the bed, but the beast takes its own step forward and barks loudly enough to make the glass tremble. It doesn't want me to move. But I can't just stay still, either - it'll come here and rip me apart anyway!

Well, maybe... maybe that’s okay? The dream has to end at me dying. And maybe this time I’ll wake up back in my own bed and get back to my real life, just like I want to. Still, I really don’t want those fangs sunk into my flesh...

The beast takes another step, sending a shot of panic up my spine. I need to make the choice soon - dash for the bed, or hurl myself head first into the creature’s maw for a death as quick and painless as possible?

Its arrow-tipped tail whips the air as it steps onward again. Now’s the time to choose. I choose…

Fwip!

Ah, fuck! Another dart? It’s there, sticking out of my neck and -- oh shit, the beast is --

Giant paws slam onto my shoulders, pressing me against the glass, talons screeching. Through my eroding vision, all I can see is teeth, a sickly tongue and gums… the faces, the faces in the wrinkles of its throat, the women I killed, they try to scream and I’m about to scream myself but teeth pierce my throat and scalp and the pressure, the pain only gets stronger until --

---​

...Great. I’m still here.

I fling off the blanket and sit right up. I’ve got rage as my fuel, and I’m ready to get even madder at this shit - but I freeze.

There’s black fur blotting out part of the white. The beast is still here, too. Fortunately, its infernal eyes and maw are shut, and its snout rests between its bulky forepaws. A stable rhythm of air being snorted in and grunted out fills the otherwise silent room.

I guess if I stay quiet enough, I don’t have to worry about that thing for a while. But it’s only a matter of time when it wakes up, hungry again. And it can’t eat the kibble…

I sigh. Should I just crawl under the bed now? The darts can’t hit me there, either. But the beast does have its long, sharp-tipped tail - it could still reach me. And in that case, I’d rather take the dart.

Whirrrrrr...

I cringe at the sudden noise of the wall opening up. I check the beast, but its eyes remain closed and body relaxed. It must be a heavy sleeper.

Clank.

Wall's open. As expected, someone in a white coat is standing behind the glass, but oddly it’s not the nurse from before. It’s another woman, somewhat shorter, with her mask lowered onto her neck and no headpiece.

“You’re new,” I remark, keeping my voice down.

“I am,” she replies. Her tone is softer and voice higher than the previous nurse’s. “I have your morning shifts now.”

I stand up and creep over to the glass, surveying the new woman’s looks and motions. She blinks, her arms relaxed in front of her, one hand loosely clasping the other. So they sent a human this time.

Her cheeks have a faint shade of pecha, just like her round, child-like nose. Her copper-sheened brown hair is short at the sides with longer, side swept bangs. Her eyes are big and green, sea green. Not too common for a Tohjoan.

“You’re not wearing your mask or headpiece,” I comment, curious how this creature will reply.

“I don’t consider them necessary. You’re already behind that glass wall.”

“Won’t there be consequences for going against the dress code?”

“Maybe a slap on the wrist, but I don’t care,” she says with a smile and shrug. “Anyway, I’m Jade Haruna. But you can just call me Jade. Nice to meet you.”

“You know what I’m in for, right?” I snort, but then pause. I don’t really know the details, do I? “What am I in for?”

The spark in her eyes dims and her smile melts off. “Multiple homicides,” she sighs. “You were possessed by a ghost who made you confess and reveal sufficient evidence, such as a hidden room in the house you lived in. There were knives, paras spores, occult items and a bloodstained board with belts and even...” A subtle wave of disgust passes over her face as she glances away. “...Human tongues preserved in jars. In the end, there was no way the ghost was just framing you.”

I feel an overwhelming urge to bang my fist on the glass knowing that someone else has been poking through my stuff, but it’s countered by the freezing realization of them really having uncovered everything. Everything. My only motion is my wildly pounding heart. My exterior staying this still, it actually hurts.

But wait, what about HIM? HE is the reason I did all of that! I killed those women to appease HIM! Sure, I liked it, but I shouldn’t get all the blame!

“But then there was also that fossil...” she continues.

Fossil? So they did find HIM?

“It had powers,” she says. “Something clearly lived inside it. When the police tried to retrieve it, it attacked them with some kind of psychic powers… no, not exactly psychic, but supernatural nonetheless. They needed a whole squad to combat it. In the end, though, they did manage to destroy the fossil, and the presence seemed to disappear...”

They… they destroyed HIM?

I mean, HE can’t be destroyed, but to undo HIS special binding to that rock… it’ll take HIM thousands of years to collect HIMSELF back into a proper vessel, and from my pathetic mortal perspective, that’s as good as gone.

Now I’ll never ascend. I’ll never achieve immortality. I’ll die. And I’m stuck here until then, stuck in this cube, never seeing the outside again --

Wait, no. It’s a dream, remember? Oh, thank fuck… had me worried there…

I dare to look in Jade’s eyes again. She seems contemplative. Funny how that is, my mind creating the illusion of other minds...

“You were really out of it when the ghost left you,” she says. “Struggling and screaming… you even tore an ear off a nurse that wasn’t careful.”

Matches up with the original dream… impressive continuity for a dream. It… is a dream, right?

No, shake that thought. It’s obviously a dream. I’m only here because I don’t seem to be able to wake up at will.

Jade focuses on my face, the gleam in her eyes returning. “But looking at you now… you seem calm and clear-headed. The other nurses tell me you’ve mostly been peaceful on other days, too. Mostly...” The last word is barely audible. “Anyway… it really seems to me like that fossil had more to do with it than the others think. Was it really you who’s responsible?”

I take a moment to think, gazing down with a pensive expression to buy the time. Real or not, this room refuses to go away. I’d be a fool to turn down an ally.

I prepare a vulnerable voice. “If I tell you, will you actually believe me?”

“I will.” Her standards must be very low.

“That fossil… was really powerful,” I start. “When it told me to do something, I had to do it. No matter how awful it was. I couldn’t disobey. My mind just… it was like... forced onto rails...”

So troubled, so hurt! I’m impressing myself with this performance. I give her a glance, eyes brimming with pain, and see my lie sink right in. Perfect. This little nidoran is completely fooled by this arbok’s false face, oblivious to the fangs looming above…

Grh.

The beast! Oh, it’s still asleep. It just grunted at a dream, I guess.

“What is it?” asks Jade. Dammit, how do I explain my sudden turn… wait… oh, I can actually work with this. Just gotta form a story… and done.

“I guess you can’t see it,” I say. “Yeah, why would you… it’s just in my head.”

“What’s in your head? What are you seeing?” she asks, so close to the glass that her breath is condensing onto it. She’s like a kid. How did she even get employed? She’s way too naive.

“There’s a monster I keep seeing,” I tell her. “It’s big, pitch black and ferocious, looks like a cross between a houndoom and a tauros… I call it the beast. It’s been there since I found that fossil, making sure I don’t tell anyone about what was going on. If I tried, it would attack or… take over. And when it takes over, I do violent things...”

“Haruna!”

Who was that? It came from somewhere beyond the hallway, startling us both. Still didn’t wake up the beast, though - that’s good.

“The treatment is soon. Get on with it,” the voice, an unknown man, continues. Must be part of the personnel.

“Just a minute!” shouts Jade back, then turns to me. “Listen, I’m very glad you’re opening up, but you should eat your breakfast now.”

My gut twists in hunger, but I abstain from moving. “I’m not eating the food. Hell, it’s not even food.”

Jade rushes to the wall. “It’s really not that bad,” she assures and pushes a button. “It’s pretty much flavorless, actually.”

The food recess readies itself like before. The red bowl is spotless, too. Either they did a good job of scrubbing the vomit off or they just got a new one.

“You’ve tasted it?” I ask. “Why?”

She returns to the glass. “I wanna know what the patients have to deal with. Helps me understand what they’re going through.” She focuses on the filled bowl. “Now, you really should eat. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That, and...” She pauses. She sighs and continues. “The sedatives in it put you under more gently than the tranquilizer does.”

“Sedatives?”

She nods.

“Should’ve guessed,” I mutter. But... “Why would you tell me that?”

She smiles, though bittersweetly. “You deserved to know.”

I hold my gaze at her for a while, then switch to the bowl. I suppose I could at least try it.

I walk up to the recess and study the pile of pellets. They don’t look any more appetizing up close than they do from afar. I lean down to sniff. There’s a scent, but only a faint one, and so free of any distinct odors that it really can’t be described as anything else than ‘probably edible’. Guess the beast thought so too, before… no, thinking about that isn’t going to help me eat.

I grab the bowl and sit down on the hard white floor. Jade sits down on her side as well.

“No utensils,” I remark.

“It’s not messy, hands are just fine.”

The pellets do look rather dry. Hesitantly, I pick one up, feeling its rough surface between my index finger and thumb. After enough staring at the dull ellipsoid, I take the plunge and pop it into my mouth.

It really tastes like nothing.

I crunch it, chew and swallow just to get it over with. My hollow stomach seems to like it, however, as it instantly begs for more. A slave to my instincts, I abide and shove more in my face. The tongue is bored and annoyed by the lack of flavor or interesting texture, but the reflexes keep the process going.

“See, it’s not that bad,” I hear Jade say.

Halfway through the bowl, my hunger is sated enough for human thoughts to return. “So, the treatment,” I start. “What is it, exactly?”

“Electroconvulsive therapy.”

I nearly choke on a pellet. "What, you just thunderbolt me? No wonder I don't remember shit!"

"No, no, it's not like that!" she assures, but I've already pushed away the bowl. "And you might forget things at first, but that's only a passing symptom."

I want to argue, but I find my energy rapidly depleting… the drugs must be kicking in. No…!

“You’re unconscious for the whole procedure, and they’re only small electric impulses…" Jade's words get less and less clear by the second. I slip down onto the floor, too weak to keep myself upright.

“B-but...” I try while she keeps going, unable to distinguish her message. The world blurs, undulates, and my eyes get heavy…

---​

Day four. Yeah, I guess I’m counting the days now.

I got up like every previous morning and saw that the beast was still asleep. Maybe it prefers to sleep because its hunger can't bother it in dreamland.

But differing from the other days, I felt something on my wrists and ankles. A stinging, a heat. I pulled back the sleeves and pant legs and saw red marks around the joints. Burns.

“Did you sleep well?” asks Jade. She arrived just a moment ago.

“I don't know. I don't remember,” I say quickly. “But I woke up with burns.”

“Burns?”

I show the red bracelets on my wrists. She leans in, gawking at the marks.

“It's because of the treatment, isn't it?” I add, holding a one-sided gaze with her surprised eyes.

“Well, they restrain the limbs in order to prevent injury while the seizures take place, but...” She tilts her head. “They shouldn’t be using anything that could cause that.” She answers my stare. “I’ll talk to them. In the meantime, do you want me to open up the bathroom? For some cool water?”

“It’s fine,” I grumble, rolling down the sleeves. “It's unlikely to have any effect this late.”

“Alright then…”

I sigh, sitting down on the floor. She follows suit. Hm… she's eager to please. Maybe I should game this...

“You know,” she starts, “you might be taken off the treatment if you behave well enough.”

Oh, here's a good spot. “Like during the hours I can't remember because I’m essentially sleepwalking?”

“Well, yes --”

“They just want me to be easy to take care of. They don't actually want me to feel better, do they?”

“I --”

I lower my voice. “They're erasing me, Jade.”

Grrhhh…

Is the beast waking up? I give it a panicked glance, but see it only lying on its side, eyes closed. Its foreleg twitches. Must be dreaming.

“What was that?” whispers Jade.

I let my shoulders relax. “Nothing. Just the beast growling in its sleep again."

A brief silence arises. If the beast’s slumbering scrapings at the floor can't be counted.

Then Jade’s face lights up again. “Right, I brought you something!" She scrambles upright, skitters to the wall and drags out a cardboard box about the size of a meowth. “It's a present.”

She reaches at the wall again, pressing something that apparently opened up a niche on her side as she shoves the box into it. Another press, more whirring and a couple seconds later, a recess appears on my side, containing the box.

She grins. “Go ahead, open it."

I draw the box out slowly. Not too heavy. What’s in it, real food? I sniff it. Can't smell anything. I think I hear Jade giggle.

With cautious fingers, I lift off the lid. Inside, there's white velvet and --

Him.

I didn't even realize how much I missed Him.

“You like it?” Jade asks, but I hardly need to answer as I grab Him out of the box and clutch Him against my chest. "I asked your family what you'd like…"

It’s warm and soft and fuzzy, nothing like He really is, but it doesn't matter. It has His blue and beige and eyes and tentacles and shell. His image. That's all I need to see how terrifying this situation truly is and how vital His presence is to help me feel okay.

I’ve spent four days in this featureless cage with no knowledge of the outside world. Could a mere recurring dream really have this much detail and continuity? Could it really block my memories of my life awake this effectively? No, it couldn't. This is illusion, madness or worst of all, reality. I’m not getting back to my old life. It's all gone now. The real Him - cold and wet but authentic - will never show Himself to me again. All I have is this fake, but thank fuck I even have this, as with it I can still remember what it's like to have something to hold and love. Love… something I've only ever been able to feel with Him.

“Are you crying?” Jade sounds worried.

I sniffle and press my heated, reddened face onto the light brown fabric mimicking the surface of his shell. I hug the plushie tighter. My tears seep into the beige, dyeing it just a tiny bit darker.

“I’m glad you like it,” Jade whispers.

She gets up and walks to the wall. I look at her, eyes moist and miserable.

“You should eat,” she says and presses the button, dispensing the breakfast. “I know the treatment scares you, but it has to be done, and it's better on a filled stomach.”

As I'm still not moving, she returns to me and crouches. “I will talk to them, I promise. I’ll find out what caused your burns and tell them to fix it.” She places a hand on the glass. “But they're more likely to be co-operative if you're co-operative, so…” Her emerald eyes focus on the bowl.

I sigh through my nose. After a lengthy blink, I make my way to the recess, Him under my arm. On arrival, I stop. I look at the plush.

“No one is going to take Him from you,” Jade says. “He’s all yours.”

A faint smile forms on my lips. Her I know I can trust. I allow myself to set Him down and grab the bowl to begin my lackluster meal.

---​

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep?

What's that noise? Why is there noise? The cube is quiet. Is someone talking?

“...ook at th…”

“...s he waking up?”

“...ctor, the patient is waking up!”

I try to move, but something's keeping me down. The pressure on my burns flares up and I’m momentarily scared off from trying again. I grunt and realize something’s filling my mouth - a mouthguard.

I open my eyes and try to make sense of the blurry environment. There’s not much there but a white roof and tall white figures swaying… are those people?

“I’ll just amp up the anaesthetic,” says one of them and leans away.

“Don’t bother,” interrupts a voice.

“What?”

“We already added the cushioning on the cuffs,” the voice continues, riled up. “This isn’t a spa. We house psychos here. I’m not wasting extra gas on this jackass. Let him feel pain.“

“Doctor, I don’t think --”

“You’re honestly gonna defend the bastard? You’re gonna be like Haruna?”

“But they’ll find out, and some human rights committee’s gonna flay us for it!”

“Oh, oh, but here’s the thing,” says the doctor. “Human rights only apply to humans. Now fire ‘er up.”

A distressed sigh can be heard, and then a click --

It’s so hot. It’s too hot! It burns! I can’t breathe. The air is too thick. Is it water? Am I underwater? I feel the pressure. It’s crushing. I can’t see. Or I can see, but nothing makes sense. There’s too much. It’s still so hot, constricting. Something’s coming. Closing in. I can’t see anymore. I can’t --

---​

“Red?”

I’m not answering.

“Red, talk to me.”

I hug Him tighter. The burns scream pain.

“Please tell me what's wrong.”

Jade stands behind the glass wall, her hands are clasped. She stares back at me, yearning for a response.

But no. I don't want to bother. I don't want false hope anymore. I don't want to be smashed down onto the concrete of disappointment again. Just let me lie down on my face, don't yank me up for another round.

They're not going to let me out. They're going to keep doing this to me until I’m dead or my soul is, leaving behind an empty husk that won't complain or cause any trouble.

“Is the beast doing something?”

The beast isn't doing anything. The beast actually isn't even here. It's gone, though probably not for long - it’s appeared out of nowhere before, it can do it again, no matter how hard they shock me.

Jade lowers her voice. “Did the treatment cause something again?”

“Haruna!” someone shouts out of view. Maybe the same guy as last time, maybe not. “Treatment’s soon, chop chop!”

My fingers clutch His fabric like a noctowl’s talons on a fresh kill. It's not too long until they'll dart me again. So, will I wake up to endure another vortex or back in this bed to discover another new injury?

“Only a minute!” Jade calls back and pushes the food dispensing button. “Please, Red, I can't help you if you don't tell me what's wr-”

“They'll just make it even worse!” I snap, just to shut her up. I feel bad right away. I shouldn't yell so loudly right next to Him.

“What did they do?”

I stay silent. The pebbles clink to the bowl.

Jade turns around. “What the hell did you do?” she shouts.

She cares so much about me. Why? Is she really so naive that she believed everything I told her without a doubt in her mind? Doesn’t she know people can and will lie, especially when their life is on the line?

Maybe she does know I’m lying, but still cares about me. She’d be the first. The first to ever really understand. Could I tell her the truth?

“You have ten seconds to get him to eat the food before he’s tranqed!” the voice declares.

That’s fine. I’ve lost my appetite.

Jade continues to argue back, but I stop listening and fall back onto the bed. My heart’s going crazy, but that’s just the primitive side of me thinking there’s a way out of this mess and I should run straight for it. I stroke one of His fuzzy tentacles with my thumb and close my eyes. At least He’s here.

The seconds run out and a fwip stings my neck, pulling me back to the abyss of the unconscious.

---​

Oh, good. I didn’t wake up during treatment this time, it seems.

But it’s not bright… it’s oddly dark for this room. Is it even the room? Am I back?

I jerk upright, fueled by a spark of optimism, but… no, it’s just the cube again, only dimmer. Dispirited, I’m ready to lie back down - but something moves in the darkness.

The beast? No, too small and the wrong shape. I think that’s human? Why would they have someone in here? They know I’m dangerous. Maybe...

“Jade?” I breathe.

The silhouette winces and turns to me. It looks like a man in the same attire everyone else wears here.

What should I do? Should I try to take him hostage? They still have the darts and I don't know where they come from… I can't credibly threaten to harm him with us two under the bed, it couldn't even fit both of us… and if I fail, I’ll have to deal with the personnel hating me even more, which will lead to more pain…

Grrhhhh…

Two rings of striking yellow appear behind the man.

No. No, you're only going to get me in trouble. Don't do it. Go away!

The man finally realizes something's off, but it's too late. In a flash of pearly teeth and onyx talons, the human’s arm is torn clean off.

The man collapses and begins a scream, but doesn't get to hold it for long as the monster's paw stomps down right on his face. A crunch is heard as the nose cartilage is crumpled, promptly followed by a snap when the neck twists too much too fast.

Elated to finally receive some real food, the beast chomps further into the arm and begins to chew, not differing much from any ordinary snubbull given a stick-shaped treat. It leaves the rest of the body ignored for now… but it's got so much flesh, so much blood, so many organs…

I slip out of bed and creep to the carcass. The beast doesn't mind. I suppose I’m like a tiny scavenger to it, a murkrow to an entei.

Blood gushes out of the severed shoulder, pooling into a dark, red mirror on the floor. I reach over the corpse and dip my fingers in the fluid. Warm, sticky… smells like iron… and it looks so good on my skin.

I smear it on my whole palm and slather it on my neck. Yeah. Yeah, this feels good. It's been too long. The other hand joins in and the red mess spreads on my face. Some of it gets on my lips. I lick it, and I… I realize just how hungry I am.

I pounce on the open flesh, bite into a clump of muscle and rip it off. Fuck, yes! This is what I’m supposed to be eating. I’m no pet, I’m a predator!

Spine slithering in exhilaration, I bite into more of the crimson tissue and pull it into my mouth, my throat, my stomach. It warms me from the inside out, hot like a charizard’s flame.

The taste, while nothing to praise by human standards, digs into my tongue and enslaves me. It's the flavor of life, sustenance, the cruelty of nature and the creatures evolved to play by its rules. And I must obey.

“Red, stop!”

Jade?

She’s behind the glass. It’s bright now. When did it get bright? When did the wall open up?

The beast is gone. There’s no trace of it. No arm, either. I look back down. Just an unconscious man, still breathing, still two-armed, only one sleeve ripped and a wound on the skin. A modest bite mark, leaking a little red.

I twist back to Jade. Wide-eyed Jade, transfixed by this scene, this incriminating scene. I shouldn’t lose her trust. I have to lie now.

I bare my pathetic dull teeth. “Grr-rrhhhh...” That’s right. I’m the beast now. It took over and the Red she knows had nothing to do with this.

“Grrrhhaaahhhhhh...” I keep snarling, back arched. She takes a step back. “Rrrhhhh-”

Fwip!

I go limp. Thank you. Finally the dart does some good.

With growling breaths, still loyal to my ruse, I doze off into the darkness.

---​

Awake again. My pulse speeds up. Did she buy it? I get up to ch-

Hey. Hey! My arms are stuck. Don’t tell me…

I squirm out of bed and look down at my chest. They did it. They fastened the straps.

“I see you’re awake,” I hear Jade say. “Beast.”

She’s behind the glass - the wall must’ve opened up already - and she does not look happy. I don’t know what her expression is, actually. Like the other nurses, her gaze is void of soul and her arms hang relaxed by her sides, uncannily calm. It doesn’t suit her at all.

I check the cube for the beast, and it seems it’s not here. The man attacked isn’t either. All that’s left behind of the incident is a small red smear on the floor.

While I worry I know why Jade's acting this way, I still need to ask. If I stick to my story, I may be able to minimize the damage.

I stare into her eyes as innocently as I can. "Hey, what's going on? Why am I all… strapped up?"

"You can quit pretending," she spits, ill-fitting disdain on her face. "I know there's no beast that controls you. It's just you. It's always been you."

Fuck, my little beastly act didn't convince her. I guess that also means she actually believed me before. How can she be gullible enough for that, but too skeptical for this?

Maybe I'm misreading this situation. I should still keep up my facade for now.

"What are you talking about?" I ask. "Did… the beast do something?"

"Don't lie to me!" she snaps. "I saw it in your eyes… you were fully present. You knew what you were doing. Everything was intentional." Her fists close up, marking the first motion she’s had so far outside of her face. “You're a monster.”

Saw it in my eyes? That’s absurd. How could anyone tell something like that from someone just by their eyes?

Still, I don’t want to lose her. She's the only one on my side in this hellhole. I need to keep trying.

“Jade…”

“Nurse! Haruna!” she shouts, starling me. “You don't get to use my first name, you fucking freak! You ruin people's lives, come here to live on taxpayer money, and still you think you count as human? You deserve pain! You deserve to be hurt, you… you scum!”

Freak, scum, not human… well, this is familiar. It's what they all say when I do something they don't like. Because I'm not like them, I don't even deserve to live...

Jade, are you really just another one of them?

She stomps closer. "Don't you have anything to say? Anything at all?"

Well… I don't know. You're not going to believe any lie I could give, and the truth…

...maybe, actually. Maybe she could understand. It's not like I have anything left to lose, anyway…

I walk right up to the glass, right in front of the infuriated woman. She's a full head shorter, but her significance is enough to still make her intimidating.

I take a deep breath and pose the question. "Do you want to hear the truth?"

"The truth?" She crosses her arms, no less enraged. "Yeah, sure, I could go for the truth for a change!"

Alright. I hope you'll appreciate it.

"All my life," I start, "I've been… terrified."

Jade's eyebrows lessen in their angle. She's actually listening.

"Terrified of how short life is, how death comes no matter what, how the time until then should be spent enjoying whatever you have…"

I suppress the panic I'm all too familiar with and lock away the image of the abyss.

"But enjoyment has never been easy to attain for me," I continue. "Other kids got plenty of joy and purpose from their friends and family, but me… I didn't feel anything good. Being around other people could only annoy or anger me. Some kids even made that into a little game, a game that naturally only got me in trouble…" Man, now I remember Craig, what a piece of shit. Anyway…

“I tried to stick to myself and my own delights, but gradually, I became more desperate. I realized I was stuck in a civilization I didn’t fit in, losing more and more of what little happiness I could gather. Until… I met HIM. The fossil.”

I smile briefly, remembering the hope HE gave me at my lowest. “HE was the first and only one who understood my problem, and HE had something even better - a solution. In exchange for my servitude, HE would grant me eternal life and peace of mind. And this servitude was barely a price with what it brought me. As HE trained me to become a fitting vessel, I gained knowledge, skills, a healthier body. And when HE had me kill those women to prove nothing held me back… I discovered a spring of joy that never dried.”

I notice I’ve sank into my thoughts and let my head droop. I raise it back up. Jade still stares at me, but now… is that sympathy in her eyes?

Does she understand after all?

“Wow, Red...” she whispers.

She gets it. She’s the first human to get it. Finally, I’m not alone --

“You’re fucking dense.”

“What?”

“You’re so dense I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” she sneers, a smile forced on her face by sheer contempt. “You think you’re the victim? That you’re the one who’s been wronged?”

What? Oh, come on.

She giggles. I didn’t even know people could giggle out of anger. “You murdered people. You tortured them. Did it never occur to you that they may have had problems of their own?”

“They?” I growl. “They’re them. They have the whole world to them! I won’t throw away my chance at happiness for people who get it for free!”

She merely laughs. Then she heads for the wall.

I push my face onto the glass to see her better, but find little success. “Where are you going now?”

“I’m gonna try to make you understand,” she answers out of sight. “I know just the way to do it.”

She returns, holding --

Oh fuck.

I never did see Him this morning.

An unsettling grin frozen on her face, she shoves Him onto the glass, right in front of me. “You love Him, right?” she says through her teeth. “That part wasn't pretend, was it?”

“Give Him back.”

“You had something you could love, yet you say you were still miserable… how wouldn’t it be possible for others?”

“Give Him back!”

“You’re just like the people you hate, yet you simply can’t get that through your skull…”

She slips her left hand to her pocket and pulls out a -- a scalpel.

With her thumb, she pops off the plastic guard. “But this’ll teach you.”

The blade sinks into the azure fabric, ripping in a wound. Off-white wool puffs out. Now it's changing color at the edges. It's dyeing blue. Dark blue. Omanyte blood blue.

“Don't get it yet?”

Again. She stabs Him again. In the eye. He bleeds again. That's not wool. That's flesh.

Face stone, I stare into her eyes. There’s no connection. We’re not the same species. She's an animal, a machine, a natural disaster.

“This is what they felt when they realized you were going to kill them,” she says.

Again.

“This is what their parents felt when they heard you took their daughters.”

Again.

“And this...”

She plunges the blade deeper than ever before. She swipes it through what little still kept Him in one piece, and half of Him falls to the floor. Splat. Grayish mush and blue stains.

“...is what your mother felt when she realized she'd given birth to an abomination like you.”

For ten beats of my heart, my mind is blank.

On the eleventh, a thought appears, and I speak it.

"I'm gonna kill you."

She laughs. “Oh, really? How do you plan on doing that? In case you forgot, you’re trapped in there, and I’m over here!”

She’s saying facts, but they don’t register.

“I’m gonna hurt you so much.”

“It’s not gonna happen, Red! Just admit your defeat! You can’t do anything to me!”

Grrhhh.

No. I don’t want to deal with you right now. I’m having a shitty enough time as is.

Jade continues her ridicule. “And even if you did somehow break through and do to me whatever your sick little mind pleased, what’s that gonna change? You’re just gonna be captured again and put under even more security!”

Grrrrrhhhh...

“And even if you managed to beat everything they threw your way, guess what? You’ll still keep being the miserable pile of shit you are! You’ll still live a terrible life because you’re you! And you’ll die, Red! You’ll die and cease to exist like any other human, just like the rest of us, with the only difference being that no one will miss you!”

Grr-

"Shut the fuck up, you stupid mutt!" I snap, turning around to face the monster that's appeared. I'm not even fucking afraid anymore. It's just a dumb drooling animal - no, image of an animal created by my brain for who knows what reason. I may not know what all is real and what's fake in this scenario, but in no possible combination is this thing actually here.

"You don't even exist!" I yell at the beast's snarling face. "Nothing you do matters! You're a waste of thought! What makes you think you have the fucking right to interrupt?"

It barks and arches its back. What now? Is it going to attack? Yep, it's pawing the ground, it's about to charge. I feel like I may have fucked up. If it hits me, it's still going to hurt, and that's not a good thing. Oh shit, here it comes --

In a flash of instincts, I leap to the side, barely missing the oncoming creature's horns. No arms to break my fall, though, I land roughly on th-

CRASH.

A heavy thud. Loud clattering. Did it…? But that's not...

I flip over to get a look of the glass wall. A large hole has appeared, framed by jagged shards and slithering cracks.

On the other side lie three figures - a ripped up omanyte plush, a wriggling lump of fur and underneath it, the body of a woman. Immobile.

The beast soon finds its way back onto its feet. My breathing halts, but the monster doesn't come for me. Instead, it looks around, piecing together what just happened, then scrambles off like mad. It… must have realized it was free, and now it wants to find a way out of this place. Freedom was worth more than food…

I don’t understand what just happened, but it seems like I may be able to escape now, and I have to take that opportunity no matter what. It takes a while without arms as help, but I manage to get back onto my feet and rush to the hole in the glass. I reach my leg over the lower edge, and to my great delight, no invisible border blocks it. The glass really is broken.

I step through, watching out for the shards on the floor, and check Jade. She’s limp and her eyes are out of focus. No breathing I can detect from afar. She seems dead, but if she’s not, she’s still unconscious and I won’t be able to get any response from her for a good while. In other words, she’s useless to me now.

But what’s not useless is that glass - while every second spent here decreases my chances of escaping, I can use it to cut this straitjacket and free my arms.

Knowing it’ll be well worth the time investment, I do exactly so. I end up with a couple of annoying cuts from being hasty, but none that should severely handicap me. Now, where the hell do I go? That white door next to me? It might lead to a room with a window in it. Worth checking out.

I crouch one last time to nab the scalpel on the floor and shove the door open. It seems like some kind of break room. Smells nice. Has a window to the outside. Of course they’d have comfort like this right next to my cold cell.

Before I enter, a small part of me tugs at my brain. It wants me to take Him with me. I glance at the plush, seeing exactly that - only fabric. While if I escape, I’ll be able to meet the real thing…

Some noise comes from the end of the hallway. Shouts, tumbling. I need to go now.

I dash through the room, open the window and leap through. Before me opens up a large field of gravel with a tall wire fence in the distance separating it from a forested area. The little rocks beneath my socks sting as I run onwards, but it’s a welcome sensation after being confined to nothing but unnatural smoothness. Together with the cool, fresh wind and blue, open sky, it tells me freedom is near.

Bang! Bang! Thud!

What’s that? It came from behind. Do I want to check, spend energy on turning my head? Do I even want to know?

Scraping and thumps follow, slowly getting louder and closer. Are those steps? They aren’t human. Is it a mon, or... oh shit, is it coming for me? Run faster, faster, shit, I’m already going as fast as I --

The thumping reaches its peak as a black mass appears at the edge of my sight - and passes me. It’s the beast, and its eyes are firmly fixated on the fence. Yes, with its bulk it can barge right through! It can free us both!

Only a few dozen meters left. Come on, run! You can do it! You can do it, you magnificent monst-

Fwip - fwip - fwip - fwip!

Red darts stick into the beast’s flesh. The beast loses its footing and collapses. Its languid body slides a meter or so, setting off a cloud of dust.

“No!” I scream. I nearly choke on my spit right after. I shouldn’t have said a thing, I shouldn’t be wasting energy on anything but running in general, but I just couldn’t stop that. But does it even matter? Can I even get away now that my personal battering ram has been taken out of the equation?

I have to try, don’t I?

My legs waver and my lungs burn, but I push myself for one last sprint. I can still do it, can’t I? There’s barbed wire on top of the fence, but that’s only pain. I’ll power through. I’ll climb that fence and reach that forest. I have to. I have to…

Fwip - fwip - fwip!

No! No! Not the darts! They pierced my skin, I felt it, they’re going to kick in, no, no, let me get away, I’m so close, only a dozen meters --

My legs give in. Gravel stings my chest and face. No. Get up…

I push the ground with my palms. I lift my upper body, but my legs don’t cooperate when I tell them to move. If my legs won’t move, then I’ll crawl!

I claw and pull with my hands, dragging my body across the gravel. No, it’s too slow. I’m getting weaker each second. My left arm doesn’t work anymore. Now the right… my vision is blurring, dimming, my eyelids can’t stay apart...

Please, no… I just want to be free… I want to…

...live…

---​

Am I awake?

Well, there’s a bed beneath me and a blanket over me. Seems like it. It’s been a while since I last shut my eyes, I can tell…

The carefree chirping of pidgey and spearow fills the air, along with the faint hum of wind and traffic. It appears I’m back in reality. So it was all just a dream. What a relief… but it does make sense, doesn’t it? It all really took a turn for the impossible at the end.

Well, doesn’t matter. I have an actual life to live, so I should get up and start the day. Get some proper breakfast, do my morning workout. But that’s all going to be pretty hard if I don’t open my eyes, so that’s what I do.

A radio stares back, surrounded by white.

END

---​
 
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(Re: Vivarium) This sort of story isn't my usual fare at all, but beta-reading it was a fun and different experience and I'm glad I got to see some of your prose work in the process. As for the rating, the official verdict should come from a mod but I believe the sensitive content herein is potentially upsetting enough to earn a 'mature' tag. That's just me, mind.

Vivarium's content is mostly outside of my taste in prose, but it does have something I really enjoy: a fully formed villain protagonist capable both of behavioural modelling and manipulation, and of experiencing failure and humiliation. Red is a good read, albeit a disturbing one. He was more fun than I thought he'd be, considering the premise. I like how he has nuance to his madness. He persuades jade that he's a victim of his delusions when in truth he's totally chill with them. You did a good job making him both raging and analytical - he's constantly resentful even as he's figuring out possible solutions to his situation and devising manipulations for the other characters. When a protagonist is truly reprehensible, it can be difficult to be invested in them. In Red's case, because he was so focused on universal and relatable desires for freedom and respect and so on, I got invested. The prose carries that well.

In terms of narration, I have a mixed experience with Vivarium. There's plenty I like very much, such as the seamless incorporation of Red's thoughts, the intensity of key moments, and the use of pokémon for descriptive purposes. However, your prose has a tendency towards over-engineered descriptions, particularly of the characters' physical movements. For me, that's a definite weakness, but you may feel differently and I respect that.

Overall, this was definitely worth a read, even being outside my prose fic inclinations. I'm not sure I'll read your other TPP works based on enjoying Vivarium, but it's at least put them on my radar!
 
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Hi there, Canis! I know it's the day after your birthday now, but happy birthday, here's a birthday review! I hope that it's both useful and encouraging, as I was banging on about that just yesterday. A quick note - I wouldn't normally be keen on reading material with the kind of content such as features in this thread, but I was sufficiently impressed with Vivarium to be up for reading more of your prose and I'm always happy to review your stuff as a friend. Cheers! Here goes:

That is some pretty slick header art, you do some great work. Obviously I'm here to review your prose and not your art, but a good visual accompaniment of any kind does a lot to set the mood, look like care has been put into the work, and so on. Good stuff! I might be being a bit dense, but I can't make the connection between it and the story, unfortunately.

You said not to read Prayer because of upcoming retcons but I feel like I could have done with skimming it at least just to understand Night One a little better. This one isn't especially accessible read in a vacuum, but that's okay, I was able to infer most of the important stuff. I'm also guessing the title indicates this is the first night after Red decides to kill people for his eldritch god? I recommend bearing this story (and the info readers might depend on) in mind as you rewrite Prayer, considering that these stories are definitely more interconnected than oneshots generally are.

I honestly feel like despite how unsettling the content is, it might not deserve a mature tag just for that - as I understand the ratings, references as brief as the ones in this story are acceptable in teen fics - but I'd leave the rating as-is to be safe.

Night One chiefly succeeds in being a flash fic about looking over your shoulder. I'm sure most of us have had conversations like Red's with Abe, being as evasive and difficult as possible to get someone off your back, and the first segment portrays that with authenticity.

It's interesting that Red uses metaphor in his narration so much - the mud, the rope - it's good stuff, and it gives distinctiveness to his character. I was expecting to see Red bury his 'trash', so having the scene jump away from his home and then back again was slightly jarring. Perhaps in a future edit you might consider a snippet just there to ease the flow a bit. Nice joke there about zubat being as numerous as snowflakes.

Night One is similar in technique and style to Vivarium, and so what I said in my Viv review applies to some extent, (criticism and praise alike), but Night One has a lot more of the in-Red's-brain narration I rather liked in Viv, so props there. Also, I realise that capitalising Him is Red's doing, but it still reads oddly when it's another character speaking. After all, Abe wouldn't utter the word with special respect himself.

There's a grim tone in this story, generally. However, a couple of moments seem at odds with that. The first is Fonz's text, demonstrating that pokémon in this setting are literate and attend slumber parties. The second is the use of "Officer Dogé." I'm assuming that these details are elements of TPP canon, but "Officer Dogé" especially seems like it's supposed to be a concerning moment, a threat to our villain-protagonist, but it's not easy to take seriously. Maybe the line would hit better omitting 'Dogé'?

I know from conversation with you that Red has no personal interest in women, but his extended lingering on his target's appearance and attractiveness, clothing, blood testing and such make it seem as if his motivation is fetishistic in some way. To push the "virgin sacrifice" angle, I suggest making it more clear that Red is choosing targets for HELIX by having his narration mention the appropriateness of this woman for his god explicitly. I'm not interested in this kind of content personally, but I have to say that Red's fixation on specific anatomical terms like maxilla is a good - and deeply morbid - quirk.

The conversion of the woman into a ditto is great stuff, it really turns the horror on its head and makes Red the victim all of a sudden. It's well executed, and I suspected it was a dream before the reveal without it being obvious in any way. I like how dream!Red has planned so poorly that he just straight up lies to a stinger cop who was watching the whole time that it wasn't even him who attacked the decoy just now! And how Red even acknowledges that Helix would be disturbed by him doing so.

The general urgency and intent both hostile and devotional in Red's narration is good stuff done well, and the content of the dream ties properly into the theme of paranoia and vulnerable feeling established earlier. Red's fear of being discovered - and of exposing his nature to Helix/being separated from Him - are palpable, particularly so as he reassures himself later about how painstaking he is not to be caught.

However, the note later on about ditto not being able to transform their faces tickled my pedantry for a second. The anime episode about a ditto like this had the ditto learn the skill of facial transformation, and it was just that one ditto with the problem. Of course, this is your canon and most readers won't blink an eye at this point, so no worries. The rest of Red's dream analysis - and need to comfort himself, despite his monstrosity - is great, though.

Night One is a little alienating for a reader unenfranchised with TPP and your canon like myself, and I feel as if it could use another 500 words of bulking out, but it's well written and does the job of showing how freaked out Red is even as he relishes his grim task. Good work!
 
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Thanks again so much for the review! Longer than I'm used to, and that's only a positive to me.

That is some pretty slick header art, you do some great work. Obviously I'm here to review your prose and not your art, but a good visual accompaniment of any kind does a lot to set the mood, look like care has been put into the work, and so on. Good stuff! I might be being a bit dense, but I can't make the connection between it and the story, unfortunately.
Oh, don't worry, my symbolism gets prrreeeeettty reach-y at times. Likely a side effect of learning to read too deeply into everything in school Finnish and thinking I need to hide secret meanings into things so that one day some high school student will spot it and write about it in an essay and get that laudatur (which i couldnt reeeeee).

You said not to read Prayer because of upcoming retcons but I feel like I could have done with skimming it at least just to understand Night One a little better. This one isn't especially accessible read in a vacuum, but that's okay, I was able to infer most of the important stuff. I'm also guessing the title indicates this is the first night after Red decides to kill people for his eldritch god? I recommend bearing this story (and the info readers might depend on) in mind as you rewrite Prayer, considering that these stories are definitely more interconnected than oneshots generally are.

I honestly feel like despite how unsettling the content is, it might not deserve a mature tag just for that - as I understand the ratings, references as brief as the ones in this story are acceptable in teen fics - but I'd leave the rating as-is to be safe.
Well, first night after he makes a promise in Prayer to stop dicking around and get back to actual worshipping. He's been killing people for quite a longer time already, though at one point he kind of forgot the focus of it being for his god and not just him. Prayer is about him getting scolded, but the reason for him actually going to meet HIM is what needs to be changed. Definitely will look at the other oneshots while fixing that, although hopefully there won't be much to alter.

As for the rating, this was rated before the recent revision of the rating system, and I think the previous system was more vague about what was thematically mature or teen. Now with the new one in place, I'll probably need to re-evaluate.

There's a grim tone in this story, generally. However, a couple of moments seem at odds with that. The first is Fonz's text, demonstrating that pokémon in this setting are literate and attend slumber parties. The second is the use of "Officer Dogé." I'm assuming that these details are elements of TPP canon, but "Officer Dogé" especially seems like it's supposed to be a concerning moment, a threat to our villain-protagonist, but it's not easy to take seriously. Maybe the line would hit better omitting 'Dogé'?
Yeah, I suppose the fics you've read don't delve much into how pokémon are like in my canon, and to be honest the others don't either. It's still somewhat of a work in progress, but I have kind of an image on how it works - mon in the wild are rather animalistic, but they're very quick to learn and even civilize if given education early enough. Different species have different levels of intellect - can be below, above or at human level, and the ones above and at can do pretty human things like have jobs and own stuff, but they're still basically second class citizens, if even that. I'm hoping to figure and flesh this out better in future fics, especially the upcoming Agápe rewrite.

For Dogé, I totally understand - during the initial writing of this I didn't take my writing as seriously, since "serial killer Red" was already so ridiculous as a concept that I didn't expect to read it that seriously either. Gonna have to come up with another name for him, one that isn't a thinly veiled literal meme. A dead meme today at that.

I know from conversation with you that Red has no personal interest in women, but his extended lingering on his target's appearance and attractiveness, clothing, blood testing and such make it seem as if his motivation is fetishistic in some way. To push the "virgin sacrifice" angle, I suggest making it more clear that Red is choosing targets for HELIX by having his narration mention the appropriateness of this woman for his god explicitly. I'm not interested in this kind of content personally, but I have to say that Red's fixation on specific anatomical terms like maxilla is a good - and deeply morbid - quirk.
Yup, he really gets into his murdering. At core he's pretty dramatic, a trait which I attribute to his extensive reading of religious texts and the ever-present ego boost of being a high priest (self-proclaimed) and sort of a "chosen one" of his god. For the admiring of the woman's appearance, I had in mind the kind of admiring one would have for a prowling tiger, a majestically galloping horse or even a complicated mechanical machine, hypnotic with all its gears and pistons and whatnot. It's not too much for a stretch for me as in my eyes anatomy is really fascinating.

And speaking of anatomy, Red does have a habit of using medical terms despite the fact he has no plans of getting a job in that field (black market organ harvesting does not count). It's his way of kind of bragging to himself about how much he knows about the human body as a result of reading a lot on the subject and having done several, you know, vivisections. He also takes special pride in being poetic, while in reality he's probably the most pretentious jackass of his town and accounts for an entire percent of the metaphors thought daily by the human population.
 
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Here's my review for Metanoia, as promised! Before I get started, I just want to say I often find your author's notes very entertaining. I choose to believe Reddit is in some way responsible for this oneshot's existence. I suppose the title and banner suggest to me that Red will reform himself for Helix, and that this is gonna be dark and morbid as hell. Speaking of Helix, fun fact: every time I read HE or HIM I think of that one time you posted the Lanky Kong vid. This is entirely on you, buddy.

The bit about childhood - I'm parsing it as being that Red was the second child and didn't get the same material privileges as Abe. Hope that's accurate. I like the callbacks to Red's fear of being taken away from Helix - althoough it does make me wonder why these are separate oneshots and not part of a unified multiparter.

The narration is very strong in this - Red's frantic thoughts show his worries and desires clearly. Not so sure I like that the interjections about how he's being distracted aren't italicised or anything. It's a little disruptive. Are the interjections meant to be from a character? I initially thought they might be HELIX, but it seems they're actually Red's own thoughts as he argues with himself.

I don't relish self-harm related content, but you made Red's motivation explicable and the description is clear and vivid. Only note: can a reign 'fall'?

Metanoia is a grim look at Red's psyche, and he makes a compelling villain protagonist for the privation and flagellation of himself for such a thing as being too devoted to the vessel of his god over his task to provide sacrifices. I find myself rooting for his loyalty to Helix over HELIX, honestly. Great prose as usual.
 
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Here's my review for Metanoia, as promised! Before I get started, I just want to say I often find your author's notes very entertaining. I choose to believe Reddit is in some way responsible for this oneshot's existence.
oh lol thanks. I usually tend to post when I'm tired, but I still feel like an introduction is on order, so I kind of just meme it as it's unlikely anyone will be dwelling on them too long.

Speaking of Helix, fun fact: every time I read HE or HIM I think of that one time you posted the Lanky Kong vid. This is entirely on you, buddy.
HE HAS NO GRACE
HE HAS ALL POWER
TH-TH-TH-TH-THIS GOD
NEEDS VIRGINS TO DEVOUR

The bit about childhood - I'm parsing it as being that Red was the second child and didn't get the same material privileges as Abe. Hope that's accurate. I like the callbacks to Red's fear of being taken away from Helix - althoough it does make me wonder why these are separate oneshots and not part of a unified multiparter.
Oh, this... yeah, this is where it gets complicated. I've sort of been glancing over them in my fics, but there are stuff like timeline merges n shit to make the characters be where they are. What actually happened is that Red was born as an only child but some years back from the present, some TPP hijinks made another timeline where Abe existed (and was an only child) merge with this one, and the result was a mix of the two. Abe's room stayed while Red's room disappeared, and he had to move out to another, less decorated room. Not that his own childhood room probably would have been created with as much love as Abe's. Anyway, Red is actually older than Abe by two-three years, I think.

Wow, now that you brought that up, I had the idea for another oneshot, so thank you very much!

The narration is very strong in this - Red's frantic thoughts show his worries and desires clearly. Not so sure I like that the interjections about how he's being distracted aren't italicised or anything. It's a little disruptive. Are the interjections meant to be from a character? I initially thought they might be HELIX, but it seems they're actually Red's own thoughts as he argues with himself.
Hm, I've had this critique twice now... still, I don't really want to italicize it, as I want it to show that it's really Red who's arguing with Red there, without any divine intervention.

Only note: can a reign 'fall'?
Uhhhhhhh iunno, to be perfectly honest it sounded like something that has been said on TV a few times and that's like how 10% of my English knowledge has been formed.

Thanks for reading and reviewing! And now that you've read Metanoia you can hop on over to Hunter Haunted right away
 
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Yo yo, sorry for the delay on this. If it seems I misremembered something in my review, let me know or feel free to ask about it.

Starting out with Red being unsure if he's awake, and overall just feeling unrested, is not only relatable, but really just sets the expectations for the rest of the one-shot with Red questioning himself and his surroundings, so kudos there.

The use of sound and touch as senses Red can use to exercise control is a really, really nice touch as well. It lines up with his character from what I've read of him, and in a ward like this, people can very easily succumb to feeling defeated. Red's a little more stubborn that most, though, and that trait of his shines through here. As a general comment about your writing style, you have a knack for intertwining monologue and body language extremely naturally, plus a knack for describing mundane actions and thoughts in a unique way, and I enjoy reading both of these things a lot.

The two nurses, contrasted together, are interesting. One's just kinda doing what she has to and being firm on what he needs to eat and do while being cold, and the second is less cold but is both firm and accommodating. It was also interesting to see how they reacted to Red kinda being an asshole and manipulating them; I know not all patients in real life are all "sure, control my life," but I don't think many of them are quite as nasty as Red are. Red's concern about nurses prioritizing him being a cooperative patient over his recovery is... very human, I must say, and a relatable concern outside of situations he's in, really.

Also, that Helix plush as a gift. So cute. ;o; Although I'm curious where she learned about Helix? Did I miss something? The other thought I had was that it was meant to add to the "is this real" aspect of things, but I'm unsure.

Also also, I have to ask... why are women specifically pointed out for mutilation? It's been a recurring thing, and it doesn't sit right with me without any worldbuilding justification for it. Or is he meant to come off as sexist, another possibility? The impression I always got was that Red would indeed look down on all humanity and would have no qualms tearing apart anybody from the inside out as a sacrifice.

Finally, for the beast. How I viewed it was that the beast is a bodily representation of Red's animalistic side, whereas his human body, well, houses all his humane emotions. I don't know if I'm right on that, and I formed that view from the ending of H,H and from what's here. (I think vivarium stands alone quite well, while we're at it.) I got that from the nurse considering Red himself a beast later on, after him explaining to her about the beast, even going so far as to refer to it specifically as "the beast." Plus the "you're not human"-esque comments, although that could've applied to the ward staff not considering criminals as humans worthy of rights.

My other interpretation was that the beast is a bodily representation of those killed in H,H, haunting Red still after everything, given the "you shouldn't have killed us" comment, or maybe it's some mix of the two. The ambiguity, honestly, works well on its own.

Last thing is I agree with a MATURE rating for the gore, since you were unsure. o:

Overall, this was one hell of a ride. And solid one at that, as always. :)
 
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Thank you very much for the review!

Although I'm curious where she learned about Helix? Did I miss something? The other thought I had was that it was meant to add to the "is this real" aspect of things, but I'm unsure.
Well, my thought was that Jade did some research on Red, and anyone who knew him would mention how attached he was to Helix. She knew about Red's crimes, but being the person she is, she wanted to know of his other side as well.

Also also, I have to ask... why are women specifically pointed out for mutilation? It's been a recurring thing, and it doesn't sit right with me without any worldbuilding justification for it. Or is he meant to come off as sexist, another possibility? The impression I always got was that Red would indeed look down on all humanity and would have no qualms tearing apart anybody from the inside out as a sacrifice.
Your impression is right - choosing women as victims is actually a demand of HIS, aka big boy HELIX. Although it is true that Red's no feminist, either. The poor relationship with his mother doesn't help that.

Animalistic works as an interpretation for the beast, as its theme is violence and savagery.
 
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A wholesome E-rated shippy oneshot? In my collection of graphic unsettling short stories? It's more likely than you think.

I started this fic meaning to submit it for the shipfic contest, but I then realized it wasn't that romantic after all and that the pairing (Fonz x Katie, from Twitch Plays Pokémon Red and Crystal respectively) was probably too obscure, so I finished it as its own thing. Since the shipfic word count maximum was 1000, this is also rather short, even if it ended up going a few hundred over the thousand.

Also, for the first time in a while, this is in third person past tense. Critique for how it works is greatly appreciated, as I'm planning on making a longer story in 3rd person some time in the future, but I'm most confident and had most practice in first person.

Like said, this is rated everyone, as there's nothing I'd consider non-family-friendly here. The harshest language used is "screwed up", to give you an example. Alright, enjoy.

---

Jacket and Ribbon

Synopsis: On his way to a school parents' meeting, Fonz bumps into an old foe.

---​

The stairs are broken. Please use the elevator.

Fonz blinked.

He briefly wondered how stairs could be broken, but soon brushed that thought aside and lunged for the elevator’s button. He was already late.

After a few nervous taps of his foot - or stomps, being a nidoking - a ding came, and the metal doors slid open. He walked inside, curling his lengthy tail around his leather-jacketed body, and pressed the button for the third floor. The doors started rolling to a close, allowing Fonz to sigh.

A sudden clank brought a stop to his calming and a surge to his heartbeat. White claws had appeared in the crevice between the doors, orange scales peeking further away. A dragonite! thought Fonz. Is it Mrs Teika? She’s never been late before. And she doesn’t strike me as the type to claw her way into an elevator… wait, I shouldn’t just be standing here, I should help!

Fonz hurriedly pushed the button to open the doors, but it was ruled unnecessary right after as, with a powerful grunt, the doors were pushed aside by sheer muscle strength alone. The dragon dashed in, tiny wings flapping, and raised the tip of her tail out of the way of the closing doors. A red ribbon was lifted to the level of Fonz’s face.

“Sorry,” she panted. “I’m late, and the stairs were --”

She’d looked up and seen the mon she’d spoken to.

Fonz had recognized her a few seconds prior - she was shorter and stockier than the usual dragonite at the parents’ meeting, even if she had something similar to her in her look beyond their shared species. The ribbon on the tail was the final piece of evidence Fonz needed to be convinced. It was Katie.

“You?” Katie’s thread-like eyebrows rose, then lowered in a defensive scowl. “Why are you here?”

“I, uhh… I’m Helix’s guardian. He goes to this school,” Fonz explained, sensing trouble ahead. “But… why are you here?”

“My sister couldn’t make it. She asked me to come in her place, since I’m pretty close to Vicky, anyway...” She inhaled sharply. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“Ah, alright...” Fonz yanked his tail closer and turned his face away.

It had been about three years since the battle on Mt Silver, but Fonz hadn't seen her too many times since. I suppose it makes sense for her to still consider me her enemy… thought Fonz, tapping his claws against each other. But the Voices left AJ and Helix turned out to reincarnate after all. In a way, both sides won - neither lost anything, at least. There’s no reason why we should stay mad. Or… right. I guess I did give her a pretty bad smack during our fight. Maybe apologizing for that could be a start?

Fonz cleared his throat, catching Katie’s attention again. “I’m sorry about hitting you on Mt Silver,” he managed to get out.

Katie's eyes lit up - but not in any joyous way. “You're apologizing to me?” she roared, shrinking Fonz further in his purple, armored hide. “What about AJ? He was the one suffering! Why didn't you just let him kill Helix so he could’ve gotten rid of the Voices without all that strain? You knew he could just reincarnate!”

“But… we didn't know,” peeped Fonz.

Katie froze. “You… you didn't?” she quietly asked.

“Why do you think Red was so devastated?” Fonz said, confidence regenerating.

“I… huh.” Katie scratched her head and looked away. Silence arose in the metal box, the echoes of the shouts long gone.

“...wait,” the dragonite suddenly spoke. Fonz’s barbs rose on end again. Is she going to yell even more?

“Why haven't the elevator doors opened?” she continued. Fonz calmed as he realized the argument was over, but his relaxed state disappeared soon as another truth dawned upon him. W-we’re stuck?

Katie wedged her claws between the doors and began trying to pull them apart, but with no success.

“Let me help,” offered Fonz, stepping closer, but Katie only swung her tail in a threatening fashion. Guess we’re not quite friends yet... thought Fonz and eyed the buttons of the elevator floor. As he had hoped, there was an alarm button. Cautiously, he tapped it.

“Did you just press the alarm button?” snapped Katie.

Fonz’s ears shot back. “Y-yeah?”

Katie growled and tried once more to pry the doors open. This time, she got results - the doors separated about ten centimeters apart. Unfortunately, all that lie beyond was the wall of the elevator shaft.

Katie groaned and sat down with a thump. She buried her face in her knees.

“H-hey, it’s okay,” began Fonz, crouching. “The firemen are gonna come and get us outta here in just a while.”

“No, it’s not,” the dragonite lamented, voice muffled by her limbs. “I’m so late and I got stuck in an elevator and I’m gonna have to tell my sister I screwed it all up.”

“I’m sure she’ll understand.”

“No! You don’t know her. She already looks down on me, and now she's gonna use this as an excuse to let me see Vicky even less.”

Fonz sat himself on the floor. “She… looks down on you?”

“Well, she's the one who got married and had a kid…”

A disdain for this sister began to grow fast in Fonz’s heart. “But you're the one who battled to cure a child of the Twitch! That's way better!”

“No, it's not…” mumbled Katie.

“And you’re super strong! You pulled those doors apart, and… back at Mt Silver, that outrage of yours did quite a number on me.”

Fonz saw a quick smile on Katie's lips.

“Why'd you apologize for hitting me?” she abruptly asked. “You were only protecting your friend.”

“I… well,” started Fonz, scratching behind his ear, “I saw how worried you were about AJ. You seemed like a really nice mon.”

“Thanks…” Katie responded. Her smile returned. “I’m sorry about my outrage, too, then.”

“It’s alright.”

Katie smirked. “And Gator’s icy wind, if his stories about it are true.”

Fonz remembered the chill and shivered, prompting a snort from Katie.

Three clangs rang out. “You alright in there?” called a male voice.

“Y-yeah, we're fine,” answered the two mon.

“Good, we're gonna get you out of there soon. Please stay calm.”

“I guess those are the firemen,” said Fonz. “They sure were quick.”

Katie frowned. “I wish we could have gotten out of this without making a scene…”

“Hey, it's not our fault. It's the building’s for having both broken stairs and elevator.”

The dragonite snorted. Fonz felt warm.

---

Fonz watched the teacher, a red-coated sceptile with a round tail-bush, set her foot on the snow-covered ground after climbing down the escape ladder.

“Was that everyone?” asked the infernape in the uniform.

“Yes, I was the last. I checked,” assured the teacher, shivering in the winter air. Disappointment was visible on her face, even if she understood the meeting had to be cut short to assure everyone a safe way down.

“Alright, we’ll be heading off then,” the infernape announced and climbed into the fire engine. “Y’all stay safe and warm!” he shouted from the window. The vehicle withdrew its aerial rescue platform and drove off, the saved mon waving them goodbye - the ones with arms, at least.

“Fonz?”

Fonz turned around to see Katie. Her hands were grabbing her arms and her tail was wrapped around her feet.

“I’m sorry about that whole episode in the elevator,” she said.

“It’s alright, don’t worry about it,” Fonz replied with a dismissing wave of his claws. “But for something more relevant… are you going to be fine? It’s freezing out here, and you don’t have anything except that ribbon.”

“I’m travelling via train, same way I got here. I’ll get warmer when I start walking, too.” She looked at the ground. “I guess I have to wait longer for my train now, though...”

Fonz’s heartbeat sped up. “Well… I’m not in a hurry to get home,” he said, fidgeting with the collar of his jacket. ”Would you like some company to pass the time?”

Katie smiled, and Fonz knew his efforts had paid off.

“Sure. I’d like that.”

---
 
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Hi there, Canis. This as a review from a person who knows next to nothing about TPP. I know Red is a murderer and in love/worship relationship with Lord Helix, at that is it.

Just like @unrepentantAuthor said, this kind of story is not my cup of tea. That doesn't mean it is bad (just that I dislike stories with villain protagonists who are realistically evil).

On the contrary I really, really liked your writing style! You know how to set up correct mood for a bizzare story where the protagonist is nervous or unsure what will happen, which was required for the first half of the story to work (Is this a nightmare or a reality? What they are doing to me when I lose my consciousness?). You achieved this specifically by focusing on seemingly unimportant details (getting up from the bed, feeling dizzy, talking about everything being white etc.) and prolonging the story part before the point of getting some answers. The unhelpful nurse character who preceded Jade helped to keep the athmosphere mysterious and ominous even. I think it is very well written (in fact it will be even more suspensful to readers who are not familiar with TPP - they might assume Red is innocent and are therefore in for a twist).

Second part is where the "disturbance" really kicks in. And I am of course not talking the gore and the mostly offscreen murders, but rather Red's mind and his attitude to what has happened and is happening. Red is really written like he has mostly despicable traits, and when in the ending he is told to his face exactly how much disgusting he is, it feels like justice and average reader will probably agree with it (I didn't expect that to happen in the end, but it felt right because of how much I dislike Red in this universe). This is despite the fact Jade was not exactly professional nor very nursely in her last moments.
If you want the story to be more approachable to non-TPP audience, I recommend adding some extra paragraph to the second half to explain about Michi - I have no idea who that is besides obviously another victim (if there is any significance, it was lost on me). Maybe a very brief flashback, that explains why is s/he important to Red to remember their name?

The story has sort of open ending in that we are never sure if it was very vivid, long dream that look realistic, or if Red is indeed institutionilized. I think this was a good thing (despite me prefering close endings and getting all the answers), because it is fitting the style and plot of the story - it is bizzare from the beginning to the end (in a good way).

If you ever write anything else than TPP or horror stuff, ping me because I want to see more of your style ;)
 
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I guess I've now been beta-reader, reviewer, and judge for Vivarium. Funny how things go.

In the process of posting this feedback, I edited it somewhat for readability and to better express some of my thoughts. It may be slightly redundant with my original review, but cutting parts damaged the readability so I have elected to leave it intact.

The following is my Judge Feedback for Vivarium for the Summer 2018 Awards, in the category of Character-Driven Fic.

I was a beta-reader for Vivarium, so I've seen it in both a developing and completed state. Some of my impressions from the beta period may have coloured my perception of the fic as it currently stands. I also want to add that Vivarium is not at all the sort of thing I would normally read, and I did so through a Review League reward request in the first place. It's an odd, niche sort of entry, with a very narrow appeal that I don't really fit into myself, and yet the merits it does have are merits I feel compelled to defend.

To begin with, Vivarium is part of a larger canon of work by Canis, which is itself based on an interpretation of the character of Red from Twitch Plays Pokémon, itself an odd fanwork of the pokémon franchise. It is several degrees removed from anything resembling normal canon, on multiple axes, and then itself removed from its own canon by virtue of being a oneshot without a clear place in its own continuity. Suffice it to say that there is not really sufficient background knowledge provided in the author's notes to fully understand the context for Vivarium. It is, to put it mildly, a fic with very low accessibility.

The above is one of the fic's greatest weaknesses. Yet, its peculiarity is itself a kind of asset for novelty seekers. I have heard that in the context of Hunter, Haunted the grim content in Vivarium loses novelty, but that's not within the scope of my judgement.

This story's strengths are in intense, focused prose, in portraying a kind of madness with internal sense to it in the form of a villain protagonist whose fears and hatreds clearly motivate him even as he is incomprehensible to the external sane observer, and in the aforementioned indulgent peculiarity of the premise. However, in my capacity as a judge I cannot argue that these merits entitle it to serious consideration for the Best Character-Driven award.

Vivarium is written in the unorthodox and vaguely uncomfortable first-person present tense. While this aids in characterisation, and it is technically strong, and the writing style is consistent and communicative, there is an anxiety, even a desperation, to describe every single movement, feeling, and event with incredible precision and specificity. The detail is for its own sake, and the use of anatomical jargon, while it does characterise Red's visceral obsessions, only contributes further to the alienation of the reader. The description of every physical movement is more like a particularly detailed screenplay than conventional prose fiction. The prose is at its best when it is urgent, and the clinical tone yields to fear and anxiety. It is more interesting in these moments, and it is more gripping. It doesn't last for long, however, and the clinical specificity dominates. I strongly prefer abstraction of events in narration.

A lot of attention is given to some especially gross events and ideas. The horror and gore elements are not shocking to me, but neither are they thrilling. I find myself unable to give an objective commentary on this material in particular, as although I am neutral, I think it's just too much a matter of taste to identify as good or bad. I'm sure that readers will enjoy or be repulsed by it as individuals, and therefore it is an ambivalent quality of the story.

Vivarium is certainly what you might call 'edgy', and again this is a matter of taste. I personally found this element a mixed bag. At turns, the portrayal of an unapologetic, murderous and manipulative monster was fascinating, and then abhorrent. At times, the depiction of abusive mental health staff hit sympathy buttons as well as invoking real abuses in our world, but there were significant interactions in which plausibility of dialogue collapsed completely. Some actions are memorable and explicable, such as the destruction of Red's comfort plush toy out of spite and contempt. Others are absurd, such as Red's murderous retaliation that should not be possible for him. One might argue that the underlying reason for this is that the entire story is implicitly an extended lucid dream, but the way in which this is presented is not sufficiently convincing for me.

Another weakness of this story that is not overtly linked to the topic of character is the tangential connection to the pokémon canon. Pokémon, berries and suchlike are mentioned or invoked, and the inclusion of Lord Helix the omanyte is significant, but it's not at all a story about pokémon and that does, unfortunately, affect my disposition towards the fic.

Nevertheless, the most relevant matter at hand is that of character, and I have to say that while Vivarium has some definite and even unique character-related merits, it doesn't have the consistently standout quality concerning character & character-driven events that I would expect in the winner of this category. The scope of this oneshot fic is also something of a handicap, and while I don't wish to improperly dismiss a work for being short, the length and the content within that space are a limitation of the range and depth of character that can be shown. Red's characterisation impresses for what it is when approached on its own terms, but that of the other characters does not.

I think that I'd like to conclude by saying that Vivarium is unique, memorable, intense, fascinating and well-presented in both technical and aesthetic respects. It is also gruesome and misanthropic, and portrays few positive human qualities. Its protagonist aspires only to vile ends, and is surrounded by characters who exist in the narrative mostly to facilitate vile actions. The most sophisticated character element is the degree to which Red's dire circumstances render him sympathetic even as he devises murderous plans, but the degree is nevertheless moderate. Consequently, Vivarium is better at psychological horror than portrayal of relatable or nuanced human experience & conditions.
 
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@unrepentantAuthor Thank you very much for the critique, I'm pleased to hear that Vivarium, while not without flaws, was a unique and engaging experience.

And listen up y'all: in light of some of the critique, I've actually changed the ending of Vivarium a bit. It's not terribly different in terms of word count, but the story is impacted by it. Check it out if interested, though naturally it's best experienced with a full reread to set the mood again.

That's all I have to say this time, thanks for reading.
 
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Awards review time!

It is worth noting that I did not finish Haunter, Hunted, so I am not sure how much that plot has over this one. I actually was not aware this was a sequel until Joanna appeared and I figured something was up.

However, as a stand-alone piece, Vivarium works a lot more than Haunted, Hunted did. It is not as bogged down in the grim and sometimes unnecessary violence that permeates those stories. For the most part, it is a thoughtful and intriguing character study looking at a psychopath trapped inside a new and unfamiliar prison.

I have no objections in principle to that concept. Psychopaths are scattered throughout fiction and popular culture, and it is a character type worth examining and deconstructing. Red was more restrained in this story and was given some more emotion and reaction and thought chains than he had in Haunted, Hunted; his life here is not about being a horrible, abusive person, but more about finding a way to survive. It is hard to make us sympathetic for someone so grim and nasty, but the author achieves that during the first two thirds. The Helix Fossil/TPP stuff works better here than it ever has in your previous stories, a subtle storyline that helps Red grow and creates a genuine connection with Jade.

The setting adds to the themes and world. It is simple and therefore isn’t well described, but given it is a white box that is excusable. This word is laid out well, with the repetitive structure aiding the dull landscape and creating a story that is vastly better than it could have been. Having Red interact with other characters beyond the nurses would have been interesting, but given what happens in the end, the limited cast is definitely a good thing.

The plot also worked well, introducing themes when necessary, slipping in the beast and the potential abuse and scars as a way of expanding the story and making Red more than just a simple, horrible murderer. In this sense, the story succeeds.

Unfortunately, it carries on beyond that point, and thus falls apart completely. We are then reminded of Red’s cruelty and crimes, but rather than sympathy in him being justified, it becomes about how he has been wronged and everyone is out to get him. His relationship with Jade, a well thought and believable character, turns nasty and left me feeling rather sour.

If it was made clearer about whether this was a mind game or not, things might be different, but I am taking it as Red is in a prison and interpreting the conclusion based on that. From that perspective, the ending reverts to the blatant viciousness with no purpose, ruining the good feelings felt initially.

I think you are a very talented writer, one who has grown a lot in only about a year, maybe two – moreso than any other writer I’ve interacted with on this forum. However, I think as long as psychopathic characters are presented as sympathetic bordering on heroic without really giving any reason to root for them or to justify those actions, your work is going to suffer because of it. It just comes across as cruel and senseless pieces and overshadows what poetry there is in your writing – and a writer should never let their talents get lost under unneeded gore.

I think Vivarium could be saved by a little more balance and a clearer perspective. There was an opportunity to create something really unique and fascinating here, and I truly wish that, even if there was a bit of violence, there was a little more humanity to balance it all out.
 
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Bringing my Vivarium feedback over, even if it pales versus awards judging.

Okay, so, in contrast to most other reviews you have for this oneshot I'm actually coming into this having read Hunter, Haunted in its entirety. Given that you ended that story in a very ambiguous way suggesting the possibility Red had ended up trapped in another hallucination, I can understand why you went with the rather ambiguous opening that you did. I'm not really going to speak much to the whole padded white cell thing or the use of electroshock treatment (which is rare and I say this confidently). This is a fic and one with a heavy dose of supernatural horror overtones. So, I'm not really bothered by the lack of realism in that department. It's reminiscent in some ways of these scenes in prison movies where someone is rotting away, their spirit crumbling into nothing. I think it works fine and choosing to spawn the beast in the second part is, I guess, an okay way of Red grappling with the "Am I dreaming?" thing and establishing how he, one again, isn't grounded in the slightest. Good job altering the prose, too. Red's much calmer in the first scene than he is in the second, where the beast appears. It shows.

So then... I guess I should talk about Red and Jade. Their dynamic's the foundation for this oneshot, I suppose. Jade's basic premise isn't entirely original. There are pieces of media where you have someone incarcerated and they find a sympathetic staff member. Jade ticks off those boxes... including the "new to the job" and the "maybe gets a bit too attached to her charges" ones. I suppose the most interesting thing I got from them was the Helix plushie (just the thought of Red needing a security plushie) but, unless I misread something, the fact that Red seems most certain he's not dreaming when Jade is around. That was a bit of an interesting ripple, given his general disdain for humanity. Except that then gets turned on his head when Red starts to revert back to the norm and the subtlety goes out the window. I'm not really sure how to interpret the last scene with Jade. I think Red is in a dream/hallucination for the entire time Jade is there, and the first two scenes and ending are reality to some degree. Because, otherwise, Jade's shift in character is far too sudden a swerve and doesn't make a lot of sense to be anything other than a dream/hallucination. At least, I can give it credit for giving credence to Red having a massive fear of death and mirror H,H's comment about that. It's the best we've got as far as a motivation for his insidious actions. I can't compare it to the original ending, but I was fairly satisfied that Red either seems trapped in a real institution or within the confines of his own twisted mine.

That's all I've got. I know it's not as concrete as my feedback for H,H, but I hope it was alright.
 
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soooo there was this monthly contest with a theme of fire in the TPP sub and i wrote a little fic for it. takes place right after what the cat dragged in / washed up aka you guessed it, the infamous sink fic.

was written in a bit of a hurry, doesn't have much of a concept to it and is only 2.5k words but maybe someone gets something out of it. rated teen for implicit physical and possibly psychological abuse. doesn't hit mature levels, but certainly isn't everyone material. alright, enjoy

- - -

Burnout

Synopsis: Blizzard still raging outside, Martyr is forced to spend the night in the same house
as the man who tried to drown her in the sink just moments before.


- - -
Abe sighs. I naturally can't hear it, not over the blasting of the hair dryer, but I can see it.

I close my eyes to enjoy the last moments of the hot air playing with my fur. I'm all dry now, dry and warmed up, but this is still a very welcome change from the painful blizzard and freezing water from before.

The dryer is switched off and the air flow dwindles down. “Is this enough?” asks Abe. I nod, and he puts the device away.

He sighs once more, now audibly. Some seconds pass with him only staring at me, eyes troubled and hands on his knees.

“I'm really, really sorry,” he finally gets out.

I speak the first words I have since the entire incident. “It's not your fault. Hell, you stopped him.”

Abe doesn't look convinced. “I… I did, but…” The sentence trails off before reaching its end.

Another spell of silence arises. It seems neither of us quite know what to say. But I definitely have questions. Perhaps I should just spit them out.

“Does he hurt you?”

The question makes Abe wince. “No, no, he's not like that,” he rushes to say. After meeting my gaze, his own flicks down onto the bathroom tiles. He mumbles an addition. “To me.”

He's defending him. Unbelievable. Does that bastard somehow manage to act like someone with a soul around the boy? Does Abe really not know what kind of person his brother is, not even a little?

Maybe the lunatic's somehow manipulating the poor guy. Abe is a good person, but unfortunately also seems the type that's easy to take advantage of.

This is all just so sick. Why can't the bastard just slip up and get locked away already? It'd be better for everyone. Maybe not for him, but he’s lost his right to fair treatment years ago.

“So what happens now?” I ask, setting those thoughts aside for the time being.

“W-well, it's the middle of the night and super cold outside, so you should stay here for the night,” the boy responds. “You can use Sam's bed. I'm sure he won't mind.”

“Are you sure it's… smart for me to stay here? When he's here?”

“You’ll be in my room the whole time,” he says, “and… I don’t think he would...” Another sentence he can’t finish.

“...Fair enough.” I stand up. “As long as you promise to answer any call for help I make.”

“O-of course. But I don’t…” He stops and sighs. “Never mind. Come on.”

Abe offers his hands to pick me up, but I walk past him. “I’m fine. Just lead me there.”

“Okay...” He gets up and opens the door to the hallway.

He flinches. Half a second later I do too, having seen what he sees.

He is outside, frozen mid-step, staring at us both with his dark eyes. Expressionless.

Four heartbeats pass.

Abe inhales to say something, but right at that moment, the freak outside averts his eyes and resumes his walk. We listen to his steps. They take him further along the hallway. A door is opened and closed. The steps end.

Ten heartbeats pass.

“I think we can go now,” I say quietly.

Abe only nods.

We make our way through the hallway to Abe’s room. Having entered through the door, I spot another flareon curled up in a comfy-looking bed in the room’s corner. Must be Sam - unless Abe befriended another flareon, which he didn’t, because there’s no way he would’ve allowed it.

Sam notices our entrance and sits up. His eyes look so bright and innocent. Like a kitten’s as it opens them for the first time.

“What happened?” he asks quietly as Abe sits down on his own bed, one meant for bipeds.

“I’d rather not talk about it now,” the boy answers, “but everything’s fine now.”

Sam looks back at me, possibly trying to deduce the events from my appearance. Then his eyes widen.

“Oh, sorry!” he says, getting up and skittering to me. “Forgot to say hi.” He smiles mareepishly. “Hi.”

“Hi,” I mumble passingly.

“Sam,” starts Abe, drawing back the little flareon’s attention. “Would you mind letting her sleep in your bed for tonight? She’s had a pretty rough time...”

“O-oh, of course, yeah, go ahead,” Sam responds. “I mean, most nights I just sleep with you anyw-”

Abe laughs awkwardly, cutting Sam off. “Yeah, yeah, but, uhh… could you maybe sleep in the ball tonight? I’d like her to have space.”

“Yeah, that’s okay,” Sam says, though his ears droop a bit.

Abe digs out Sam’s ball from his drawer and points it at the flareon.

“Goodnight,” says Sam with a smile.

“Goodnight,” responds Abe and presses the button. In a red flash, Sam is returned. Abe brings the ball back to its storage. His way of holding the ball has changed - it’s much more careful and considerate, as if what he held had a pulse and breathed. Absolutely nothing like his brother...

“So, uhh...” Abe gestures at Sam’s bed. “Make yourself at home. I’m just gonna... go back to bed now.”

As he crawls underneath his blanket, I traipse to the offered bed and lie down. It’s quite soft, and still warm. Smells like Sam, of course.

“By the way...” Abe starts. “Like I said, you’ve had it pretty rough today, so… I just wanna let you know that, uhh…” He leans on his blanket, voice muffled a bit. “If you would like to sleep next to me, like, for comfort or something… that’s okay by me.”

“...Uh-huh.” Thanks, but no thanks.

“...Well, goodnight.”

“M-hm.”

Abe switches off the lamp on his nightstand and darkness regains its reign.

I try to melt into the pillow beneath me, leave the horror of today behind, but something doesn't let me. Suspicion. I know my senses are sharp and that I can defend myself now that I'm warm again, but will that stop the maniac? He backed off before when Abe caught him in the act, but who's to say he won't change his mind after a while to think?

...Should I take Abe up on that offer after all and sleep next to him? It'd make his brother less likely to attack…

No, you have dignity. Just sleep where you are, and screech like hell if anything approaches you. You need the rest.

Ngh. Fine…

- - -​

I'm awake.

Why? Did something happen?

I open my eyes and survey the room. I can't see anything new, but I can hardly see anything in general through the darkness.

Empty floor. Bump underneath the blanket of the human bed. That's Abe. The drawers are all closed, the bookcases are still, the door…

Wait. The door is cracked.

The hallway is even darker with no streetlight leaking in underneath the window curtains. Is something there? It's just so dark… the static overwhelms any details…

It moved.

Something moved. Something’s there.

My heart beats louder. I scrutinize the blackness. There’s a form there. Peering in. It has eyes. Lifeless eyes. And they're staring right at me.

It's him.

I glare back. What do you want? What are you here for? You do know I can wake Abe up any time I'd like?

Uncertainty chills my bones. What if he doesn't care? What if he decided to finish this now, no matter what?

Wait, I don't need to be afraid. I have my fire. I'm no longer defenseless. He's just a human. We're away from any sinks.

It's time to stop fearing. It's time to let him know the facts.

I sit up, then stand. My limbs feel no fatigue, numbed by adrenaline. I stare deep into the shadow’s eyes, and I show my flame.

My mane spreads out, its long fur dancing with the heating air's movements. Like an ember, I glow a warm, warning red. The darkness of the room decays, burning away with a slow flame.

The shadow's face is lit. It's just a man. A boy. A boy filled with bitterness and hate towards just about everything.

I won't fear a being so miserable.

It moves. My ears twitch. But it moves away. Looks away, and withdraws. Tap, tap, tap. Fading steps. A door opened. A door closed.

He's gone.

I sit back down, letting my fur cool. I guess he just wanted to be creepy. Or maybe he did have some intentions, but reconsidered. Or… went to wait for me to fall back asleep.

Not that, please. I just want a damn rest. A peaceful night.

You know what? I have great reasons to get into Abe's bed. They're smart reasons. If anything's bad for your dignity, it's rejecting a completely valid option.

I get back up. Quickly, while I still have the adrenaline boost, I leave my bed and jump onto Abe's.

Sluggishly, he wakes up. His sleepy eyes meet mine, and he understands right away. As he lifts up the blanket, I shuffle in and lie down.

- - -​

It's dark. But not the same dark as before.

There are no walls, no windows, no ceilings. But I can walk, so there must be a floor.

There's something else here, too. A presence. I can feel it in the air.

“Who are you?” I growl. I already have an idea.

It moves. I know it's moving, but where, from or to, I don't know. I spin, trying to pin it down, but can't.

It comes closer. I can sense its distance. Still not its direction, but it's something. It's still some meters away.

I'm sick of this darkness. Light, come.

The glow inside me awakens. My mane and tail light up, illuminating the environment. Or it should, but nothing catches the light. The floor is as black and textureless as before - the only thing my glow made visible was my own body.

I freeze. That’s probably not a good thing.

A hiss comes from behind.

I turn around, facing the eyes I know and despise, on a black arbok's neck. No part of the serpent touches the ground - instead, it slithers through the air itself.

The arbok's true eyes, yellow and slit-pupiled, are fixed on me despite the restless motions its head makes along with its body. A forked black tongue flicks in and out.

Its neck cranes back. I know what it's doing, but to attack me - clearly, it doesn't.

I fill my mouth with a white-hot flame and spit it right at the devil's face.

A scream. A scream not of an arbok or a lunatic. It's not him. I'm not there anymore. The bed. Abe. The fire. They're on fire!

I jump down to the floor. Abe is flailing, his skin burning, his face agonized. I had a nightmare. I had a nightmare, but my fire was real!

He squeals again, desperately trying to pat out my flames, but in vain. No! What have I done? What can I do? Nothing, anything I'd try would only make things worse!

“What did she do?”

That shout - that shout was his. He's here. There, at the door. Shocked. Worried about his burning brother. Worried? You're not worried! You're faking it!

He produces a fire blanket - from where, I don’t know, perhaps he’d kept it with him the whole night in case of a second round - and throws it on Abe, finally soothing the ravenous flames at least by a bit. Abe grabs it, cloaks himself with it and continues his attempts to extinguish the fire while his older brother turns to me.

“This is all your fault,” he spits. Hisses, like the serpent he is.

No, it’s not my fault. It’s not my fault!

...Is it?

The flames poking out from the blankets’ edges surge in heat again, and Abe lets out a hoarse screech.

- - -​

It's dark.

I’m lying down. It’s soft, soft around me. This is a bed. It’s not on fire. That was a dream.

I sigh. I still feel Abe’s forearm next to me, relaxed and free of fire. None of that happened. Everything is fine.

But is it? That nightmare had a point. If I try a counterattack, even if I wasn’t in Abe’s bed like this, I could end up setting the whole place on fire. I hate the creep, but Abe and Sam and Fonz and… even Helix live here. I couldn't do that to them. Unlike him, I’m not a monster, despite what he may claim.

I shuffle away from Abe, the boy miraculously still staying asleep, and jump off the bed. In the dim light of my faintly glowing mane, I pace to the window and peek in beneath the curtains. No snowflakes catch the light of the streets. The blizzard has stopped. I can leave. And I should.

Should I leave a note? No… I'll let them know I'm fine some other day. In the meantime, may the serpent take the blame. He certainly deserves it.

I make my way to the door and peer out. The hallway is empty. No lights are on here or downstairs. I can brighten up a bit.

I slip out of the door and creep downstairs. Nothing here, either. Good. Nothing to stop me. Now I'll just walk out the front door, I suppose… resume my trip like this whole episode never happened.

A creak. The sofa creaked. Is someone there? Did my light wake them up?

I stay still, maintaining my glow at its current strength. If I turn it off, they'll just find it more suspicious.

Another creak. Should I run? Could they catch me? The door isn't far, but its lock takes time to open, and I already failed to get away once because I kept fumbling…

A figure arises on the couch. Human. It's him. I need to run!

I dash for the door in leaps and slam my forepaws beside the lock. I hear him get off the couch, his feet thumping down on the floor. He's coming. Oh Gods. Cursing my stubby toes, I twist the lock, or try to twist it, but it wasn't made for quadrupeds -- but it opens!

I hop out and keep running. The cold of the snow below stings my paws, but that’s the least of my worries. I bolt across the front yard, stop for a split second to check no vehicles are coming, and cross the icy, gravel-peppered road.

On the other side, I stop. I can’t hear him follow. Did he give up?

I look back. The front door is still open, but now the lights are on. A silhouette of a man stands in the frame. The dead eyes confirm his identity.

But he stays still. He’s given up. It does make sense as it’s the middle of the night and freezing outside, but he slept on the couch just so he could catch me alone if I happened to come downstairs…

But that… doesn’t seem right. He knows Abe would blame my disappearance on him. Why not just get me in Abe’s room if he didn’t care what Abe thought?

No, I’m just missing something. I haven’t had a good sleep and my brain isn’t at its best right now. He wanted to get me and that’s a good enough explanation.

The man in the doorframe pulls the door to a close, its outpouring light extinguished. The serpent withdraws to its den. I should recede to my own, too. The blizzard may have stopped, but it’s still frigid out here.

I continue along the frozen street. My mind is hazy, but two particular things are perfectly clear - my destination, and the fact that I’ll never set foot in that house again.

- - -​
 
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EDIT (18 May 2019): Added a little more content to the story thanks to feedback.

Looks like I forgot to upload something again. Anyway, here is HIM, a one-shot I wrote for a contest prompt over at the TPP subreddit, and it's about young Red meeting the god above his god for the first time.

About the content: This fic is rated mature predominantly for strong suicidal ideation (mostly at the beginning), but there's also discussion of cannibalism and an F word (yes, just one).

With that out of the way, let's meet HIM.

- - -

HIM

Synopsis: Upon returning from Mt. Silver, the place where his beloved lord was slain, Red is convinced life has nothing more to offer. Then a forgotten stone calls to him.

- - -
“And... make sure he doesn’t do anything to himself, alright?”

That’s what Fonz said to my mother when he left. Quietly, but I still heard it.

It’s the first time anyone’s said that about me. I guess it’s not a thing the average person actually hears, but for a moment, it still felt like I was just like anyone else.

But that really applies for this entire thing. This is something I’ve never gone through before. I didn’t think it could happen to me. Hell, some time ago I thought it didn’t actually happen to anyone and everyone were just pretending like I was. But it really did. And now it’s happening to me as well, despite my difference.

Mourning.

Every second He’s gone, reality aches. And He’s gone every single second. There will never be another second He will be here, not a single second more I’ll spend without this pain.

When they mourned, I asked questions. Why do you care? It’s not you, is it? You didn’t even like them that much, did you? Them being gone doesn’t really affect your life, does it? Even if it did, couldn’t you just find someone else to fill the spot?

They never had a good answer for any of them, so I thought they were stupid, illogical. But now I understand. I still don’t care about their sorrow or the people that died, but I understand it.

It feels sick to look for a silver lining in something as devastating as this, but I guess there is one, and it’s the fact that one of my life-long questions has been answered. Not that it was worth Him being gone.

Gone. That word just hurts so much. But I can’t avoid it. It’s just the truth. If I lie, the truth will just get more painful, and the truth never leaves. It gnaws at the edge of your mind and no pesticide can kill it.

For a moment, I contemplate making a motion, but lose the will as soon as the truth finds me again. That there’s no point. There’s just no point now that He’s gone.

So I stay like I’ve been for who knows how long now. Lying in my bed, staring at the blank ceiling. Some primitive side of me claims that eventually I’ll have to move, but it clearly didn’t get the memo. There just is no point anymore.

It tries asking those questions I once asked. Why do you care? It’s not you, is it? I wish it had been. I wish I didn’t have to be alive to witness this. I wish the feraligatr had had just a little more bloodlust in him and finished me off as well. ‘Slain’ me too. ‘Slay’. I used to like that word. Now it’s almost as bad as ‘gone’.

Couldn’t you just find someone else to fill the spot? Sickening. Repulsive. Abhorrent. Deplorable. That’s what that idea is. It’s a suggestion someone with absolutely no understanding of the situation would offer. Or someone who knows exactly how appalling it is and wants to tickle my gag reflex because they’re just evil. Evil - another concept I’m starting to gain a better understanding of...

It’s true that it would probably be very possible to clone another from the fossil. They did it once, can’t be hard to do it again. But it wouldn’t be Him. It wouldn’t remember me. It’d be a spit in the face of His memory. It’d wear His face, have His voice, it could even learn about these things and learn to behave just like Him, but it wouldn’t be Him. Because He is dead. His soul, His consciousness, it’s gone. And there’s that word again.

I feel like crying - a feeling that used to be rare and only attached to the loss of simple benefits or experiences, but has been present nonstop since He… since He started to be gone. But I can’t cry anymore. My body can’t produce tears anymore. I dried my ducts out all the way back on the mountain. And, again, there’s really no point, is there.

...No. I think there’s one point left. Fonz knew that was a point, it’s why he said what he said. My mother knows it’s a point, it’s why she isn’t here doing what Fonz asked her to. It annoys me to think that going through with it will likely bring her great satisfaction, but I believe the relief I’ll get will outweigh the disappointment thousandfold.

I am and always have been afraid of death. Just like every being that can think. Our number one priority is to avoid the end of our lives, even if it’s inevitable for all.

Only now, I’m beginning to see the truth. Death will come. There’s no point in avoiding it. But there is one in bringing it in advance. Ending the pain. The pain that I wish I could rise above, but I’m just a human. Maybe if I was a god, I could, but I’m not and never will be.

So how will I do it? I’m specifically trying to get rid of pain, so I’d like it to be quick and not hurt that much. Then again, when it’s over with, I won’t care either way. I’ll have succeeded in erasing myself and will not be able to regret or want a do-over.

Guns do it fast and painless, but I’m fifteen. I’m not getting one of those any time soon, not that it’d be easy even then. Maybe in Unova it’d be a bit less difficult, but I’m not going to wait three years.

Poison? The bad kind is rather painful. The good kind is inaccessible. It might not work. Next.

Jumping off a high place. If that place is high up enough, it’s a sure shot. But I know my primal side would make the fall hell for my mind. I might, by some miracle, even find a good reason to keep living, and then I’d sure feel like an idiot. Let’s keep looking.

Train. Train… hm. Accessible, quick, possible to jump off the tracks if second thoughts come. I’d even make a nice splat and traumatize a couple of people in the process. Great way to give a final ‘fuck you’ to the world…

Red.

Yes, that’s my name. Or nickname, but… who called me?

No one said anything. I can’t remember any voice. But I was called.

Red. It happened again. It’s like I reacted to nothing, but clearly it can’t be nothing if I reacted.

Am I falling asleep and losing touch with the real world? That’s possible, but something like this has never happened during that trance-like state. Am I… am I going insane? Is this what it feels like to ‘hear things’? Has His death scarred me so badly that my brain has started malfunctioning?

Fossil. I saw the fossil. But it wasn’t in my sight. Only in my mind, without reason. Why would I think of that now? It has nothing to do with what I was thinking about.

Red. Again. Called. It’s called me three times now. Did it also give me that… image of the fossil? Does it want me to get the fossil?

Yes. How do I know that? What convinced me of that? I just know, and I don’t know why I know.

I have to get to the bottom of this now.

I get up. Moving feels so odd, having spent the past whatever minutes utterly without it or the will to make it happen. But I get off the bed and walk to my bag. The old bag, the one I carried around on my journey, not the newer one I used on the trip to the mountain. Just approaching it brings back memories. Mostly painful ones, but some sweet. He was there, on the journey. Before that, it was the fossil He was cloned from. It weighed a lot, but it was precious. It was part of my being. Just like He was after it. When He came, I left the fossil with those people. With Him around, I didn’t miss it much. But I did come and get it back once the journey was over. For old times’ sake. And it felt like it belonged to me, belonged in my house. But I found no place to put it, so it stayed in the bag.

I crouch and open the zipper. It’s still there. Grayish brown. Shape so familiar.

Touch.

We just spoke in unison, the voice and I. The non-voice and I. I’m meant to touch it.

I reach my hand in and…

...wait, what's that?

Some kind of folded paper peeks out of an inner pocket. A map? No, the map I had didn't look like that. Is it a bunch of receipts? No, the paper's too stiff and colorful. I'm curious now…

I pull the paper out and study it.

It appears to be some kind of… brochure. For mental health services.

White and green palette. Sad kid on a bench on the cover. Text saying mental health issues can happen to anyone, that there are people that can help, then a bunch of addresses and numbers…

...I remember now. Not how I got this, but that I've looked at this before. I figured that someone must have given it to me during my journey as an attempt to help. But I didn't pay this any more mind - I felt fine. Because I had… Him. But now I don't. And it feels awful.

This brochure promises help… but how could they help? They can't bring Him back. What could they possibly tell me to make my life worth living again? I've already thought of everything. It's not like I want life to be pain - I've tried to think of things to care about. There just aren't any. Unless I've… missed something.

Is there some truth I'm not seeing? Is there some trick I don't know? What is it that keeps everyone else living despite all the pain and sorrow they feel?

Maybe my brain is just broken. Maybe they could fix me?

Red.

Right. The fossil. I was supposed to…

Touch.

Alright. It's not like this brochure is going anywhere.

I set it down and touch the fossil’s rough surface.



Where am I?

Walls, ceiling, there are none. Instead, sky. Sand. Sea. It’s outside, but it’s warm. But it’s winter. It’s not supposed to be warm.

A soft breeze strokes my face. Is this… is this real? Am I dreaming? I feel too clear-headed. But I could also be asleep and have my standards for that lowered. Dream logic.

Okay. Okay… should I try to wake up? I don’t know, I have nowhere to be… and it’s pretty here. Comfortable. I could stay a while.

I stand up straight and look around myself. A calmly undulating sea stretches out into the horizon. The sky is a rich azure, covered here and there by a few puffy clouds white as snow. Behind me, the sand shifts to vibrant green grass some way in. I seem to be standing on the edge of a vast circular island.

Middle. There’s something in the middle. The non-voice tells me so. I can see a blot of something white, is that it?

I begin to walk towards the middle. The blot becomes bigger, sharper. There’s something golden, too. What is that shape? I speed up. Is that really…

It is. It’s a statue of Him. His skin is white marble, His shell is shining gold. He stands on a pedestal of the same kind of marble.

Or… is it of Him? It could be any omastar. Maybe it’s modeled after His appearance, but any clone would share it. There’s no guarantee it’s in His honor.

Something seems to be engraved on the front of the pedestal. Maybe it’ll give me the answer. This in mind, I hurry up, and in general… I know I have a burning desire to see and touch Him again. Even if He’s just stone.

Seconds of eternity later, I reach the statue. His face is level with my chest, so I kneel. Much better - now He’s higher than me. Even if His eyes are closed and He wouldn’t see it.

The detail is astounding. The striation of His beak, each sucker on His arms, all have been carved with care and striking accuracy. It’s like He really is there, only frozen in time, turned to stone. I want to break Him free. But I would only break Him.

The inscription. It’s text, yes, but those are letters I’ve never seen before. Are they even letters? Does it say anything?

HELIX, GOD OF CHAOS.

The non-voice. It read it for me.

“Who are you?” I whisper. I have to know now.

A wind slowly awakens. Blows at my face, creates waves in the grass. It was rather still before, wasn’t it. Am I being answered?

“I am your god.”

The statue. The statue spoke. It didn’t move, but I heard a voice. This time there really was a voice.

It was deep. Resounding. Masculine. Yet still gentle somehow.

The question I’m about to ask is stupid, but necessary.

“Is it You, my lord?”

“Yes… and no.”

What does that mean?

“He houses my spirit, but not my soul.”

Did he read my mind? He must have. The non-voice did answer a question before.

“I am a god. Your mind is open to me.”

So… do I need to speak?

“You need not, but I can sense this voiceless way of conversing unsettles you. You shall speak.”

Okay. Alright. I guess that might be easier.

“What did you mean by ‘spirit’?” I ask.

“It is a word I use for the part of me that He retains, one which allows Him to reincarnate and retain His memories.”

“Reincarnate?”

Some part of me, something lost in the void upon His departure, reawakens. I’ve received hope. But false hope is agony.

“Yes. He can be brought back - not only His body, but His soul. That is what my spirit allows. The continued existence of a soul beyond death.”

Don’t be lying. Please don’t be lying now. That would be too cruel. Beyond anything I could justify.

“You’re telling me that if I had Him cloned from the fossil again, it would really be Him? Not just a clone? And He’d even remember me?”

“Yes. You always knew He was divine, did you not? Did you think a god could be erased by a mere lizard?”

I… I guess he has a point? My lord didn’t really have many things differentiating him from a normal mortal omastar, objectively speaking. I’m starting to feel a bit stupid. He was a god, right? Gods have to have some powers.

But… I’m not going to just take this guy’s word for something and change my entire world view. I’m not, am I?

He’s already heard it, no doubt, but I ask the question. “How can I trust you?”

“Currently, you do not have much reason.”

Oddly open...

“But I tell you this. Take this stone in which my soul resides and have Him brought back. When He sees you, He shall know you, and you shall know I am speaking the truth.”

I suppose I have nothing to lose. But I’ll need to convince my team to agree to this. They weren’t too big on cloning Him, either. Not sure how I’ll tell them how I found this out…

“It is imperative,” he suddenly speaks, “that you do not let them know of my existence. Tell them it was the Voices. Those called them to the mountain, and the new host did arrive as promised. They shall believe it.”

For just a moment, I revisit a thought that’s come every now and then. If only we hadn’t listened. He’d still be alive.

“This all pains you,” he speaks again, “I am aware of that. But know that His death is what has allowed me to contact you. It was necessary.”

Lots of questions arise, but I choose the one I’m worried I might forget if I don’t ask it now. “Why shouldn’t I tell the others about you?”

A rumble. I cower like a pichu, which brings me shame, but I get the feeling this reaction was expected.

The statue of Him trembles with the earthquake - then all motion ceases. His eyes are now open, golden.

“Red,” the voice speaks. “You are not like the other humans, are you?”

In what way? Although… I have a feeling I know what he means.

“You do not feel like other humans,” he continues. The feeling strengthens.

“It’s true,” I say. “But what does that have to do with you?”

He smiles, quite widely. I feel it from the air this time.

“I am the perfect god for you.”

The lights go out. Or, I mean, the sun. But it was as instantaneous as a flick of a switch. The darkness covers my sight.

Swishes, lights. Flames are igniting in midair around me, forming a stationary ring. They illuminate my surroundings, which have remained the same - save for the statue, which has disappeared. Something else stands in its place. Someone.

I get up and take a few steps back. The one who’s appeared doesn’t move. He’s short, a head shorter than me, but he looks my age. His skin, from what I can tell in the flames’ light, is darker than mine, and his wavy short hair seems to be a very dark brown. He’s not Tohjoan, not by those features or his facial ones. His nose is larger and more angular, and his eyes are wider. His genes are from lands more southern, clearly. His clothing, on the other hand, looks like it also came from the past. His white robes seem hand-sown, rather sloppily so, and he lacks shoes altogether.

“Who are you?” I ask, studying him further. His eyes are sunken, tired. His skin shows scars and wearing. It's clear he's no royalty. He's someone poorer, maybe even a slave. His ribs shine through his skin, but he does have some musculature. I feel like he's constantly two seconds away from asking for food. Yet something's stopping him. Fear? Pride? Or perhaps he knows I wouldn't understand him. He likely speaks another language.

“This,” he says, catching me off guard, “is Kohath. He lived a few millennia ago in a land far from yours.”

It seems the voice is speaking through the boy. Took me a bit to get that, as Kohath’s voice is still used. His pitch is about the same as mine and others our age, but he speaks in the same way as the voice before did.

“Kohath was a manservant, under the ownership of a sailor's family. He was underfed, overworked, mistreated. He was below even the miltank of the house. Miltank who ate well, as well as the family did.”

Kohath's dark eyes slowly intensify in an emotion. A combination of wrath and hopelessness. I flinch at the glare. Not because I fear him, but because I've seen the same stare many times in my own reflection.

“Kohath dreamt of revenge, but knew any action he took would result in tenfold retribution. His masters simply had too much power. The law was on their side. He could not protest, he could not leave. He considered death, but knew it was not what he sought. He wanted his masters to suffer, not himself.

“One day, fate rewarded Kohath. He saw a creature stuck between some rocks on the shore. This creature was an omastar, a rare sight, but even more peculiar was the fact that it spoke. It pleaded Kohath to free it, offering a great reward in return. Kohath saw an opportunity, even if he saw little promise in it, and helped the omastar.

“This omastar was my vessel at the time. Not only to my spirit, but to my soul. I showed Kohath my power, which impressed him greatly. It was only a fraction of my true power, as I was weak at the time, much like I am again now - but what I gave to Kohath was enough to change his life for good.

“Knowledge of spells and seals. Training to hone his skills and wit. Courage to rise up against his masters. With these, Kohath's days of servitude would soon be over. As his masters finally found out about him leaving every now and then to see me, the time had come. The family attempted to attack him, but I had given him power. With it, he struck back. He reached for the vengeance he had dreamt of all those years and plucked it like a fresh pecha. Every human that lived in that house - he slaughtered them, deaf to their cries. As I had advised, he left the miltank be due to their high value. Instead, he sated his lifelong hunger with the flesh of the slain.”

Wait, he ate…

“Yes,” the voice inhabiting Kohath speaks. “To you, that would be called cannibalism.”

“Isn’t it…”

“Frowned upon, putting it softly?” Kohath smiles. “Perhaps. But setting that aside, what really is wrong about it? The killing? You were not shocked when I told you of that. You do not care what others think of you, do you? You do not mourn the deaths of those who do not bring you benefit, do you? What is it about consuming human flesh that upsets you?”

“It’s...”

...well, this is strange. Why did that idea sound so disturbing? I’m not one of the people against eating feral mon. Why should humans be different? If a human died of natural causes, it wouldn’t even be murder, it wouldn’t be something that would bring a threat to me if allowed. It’s not like it’s something like eating insects, either - human flesh can’t be that different from other mammals’ meat. But there is one thing...

“Isn’t it dangerous?” I ask. “With diseases and so on.”

“As dangerous as it is to eat any other creature,” he nonchalantly responds. “If the one you consume is healthy and the flesh is properly prepared, there is nothing to worry about - as long as you stay away from the brain and liver. I am sure some research later on shall tell you why those organs should be avoided. Currently, I have a story to continue.”

I wonder what the point of the story is.

“In just a while, you shall understand,” he says. “Having sold his masters’ miltank, he left town, carrying along my vessel. I continued to advise and train him as he survived in the wilds by hunting. With my help, he became like one of nature's own, only blessed with superior wit and spells of my creation. Disease avoided him, kept away by my healing touch.”

As he speaks, Kohath's body changes before me. His ribs are covered by fat and muscle. His proportions and facial features mature, growing him up to my height, then higher, higher by a whole head. Stubble on his chin grows into a full beard that eventually merges with his long, shaggy hair. His voice deepens, somewhat beginning to resemble the original voice of the speaker.

All of that is plausible through normal maturation, but one change isn’t as natural - the one in his eyes. The dark irides have lit up with yellow, its hue richer than any humans’ and closer to the color persian occasionally have. It certainly feels like I’m staring at a wild beast.

“Eventually, word spread about Kohath the man-beast. There were men who attempted to capture him, but those attempts only resulted in their deaths. Kohath consumed their flesh and marked their bones to warn others. With time, Kohath encountered different kinds of strangers that sought him - ones willing to join his company. Kohath wanted to turn them away, but I convinced him to let them stay. So they did, learning Kohath's ways by watching and mimicking. I gave them my blessing as well, and so I gained more followers. With more manpower, they could build more, take down larger prey. A clan of sorts was born. This clan grew in numbers as time went on, and so did my powers.

“My followers and I saw this way of living to be ideal, and we sought to expand our influence further. At first, we begun conquering villages. These battles were not without their losses, but the victor was always clear. Kohath's clan grew and grew. From a leader of only a few men, Kohath eventually became a king to thousands. And this was how the Helixian Kingdom, a nation of warriors beyond human, was born.”

A white light envelops Kohath. He gains even more height, another head of it, he's over two meters now! I step back without even thinking. The light withdraws, exposing the giant with his beard and hair now trimmed. His neck and limbs are draped in jewelry, glistening with gold, silver and gemstones. His white robe now truly becomes white, utterly spotless instead of the dull and dirty off-white from his days as a hunter.

“As you see,” he says, “I have much to offer to my servants. Much I believe you would be interested in.” He smiles, his teeth exposed, and I notice his canines are larger and pointier than the average man’s.

He’s intimidating, but I dare to doubt, even if it accelerates my pulse. “How come I’ve never heard of this kingdom?”

“A good question,” Kohath says and steps to his side. Movement from him after being stationary for practically all of his time here startles me, but I calm down somewhat after pinning down his path, which encircles me. I turn constantly to face him, still, as he doesn’t seem like someone you’d want to turn your back on.

“The answer is that, unfortunately, this kingdom did not last forever. Why that was... I can tell you about that some other day. But the short story is that our enemies knew exactly the fate we hated and made it true. Being erased. Not feared, not reviled, but utterly deleted from existence. It was in their favor, as well - a kingdom that once thrived can be resurrected by future generations that admire it, but a kingdom that never was cannot. All the evidence was eradicated… or that was their attempt. But I had foreseen the fall of my beloved clan and devised a way to preserve myself for a better time. Upon my request, the last of my servants brought me to a mysterious mountain of a faraway land to slumber in peace and safety. A mountain you know well.”

Mt. Moon. So that’s how the fossil of a water-dwelling creature ended up there.

“I was not the only thing brought to that location,” he adds. “Were you to go there and open a certain seal according to my instructions, you would find a chamber with scrolls upon scrolls of history written in our forgotten language.”

Kohath stops, his yellow eyes scanning me. “I have been able to look more deeply into your thoughts now. What I have seen has convinced me that you are indeed worth my trust, and that is why I could tell you about that chamber. This benefits you as well - the chamber is an even better way for you to be convinced of my divinity.”

He takes the last steps to reach his original position in front of me. “I suppose I have rambled on for long enough now. Showing you this vision is beginning to exhaust me, so I shall pose the question I have been meaning to ask this entire time.”

What’s he gonna ask of me? Will there be repercussions if I say no? He did say he was starting to get exhausted, so he can’t have that much power left for retaliation.

“Will you,” he begins, his wild eyes locked in mine, “the one known as Red, follow in the footsteps of Kohath, the first ruler of the Helixian Kingdom, and his descendants? Will you accept training and powers from the god of chaos? Will you serve me?”

“Well… what does that involve?”

“In the beginning, not much. You would open the chamber and learn more of my children’s history. You would study certain spells and practice them. You would train your body and keep it healthy. Aside from that, your life would remain as it was only a few weeks prior.”

“Could I… stop at any time?”

“It would sadden me,” he says, glancing away, “but you would be free to do so, as long as you returned me and the scrolls to Mt. Moon. I would wait there for someone else to find me, someone who would accept my offer.” He then smiles again. “But, honestly speaking, it would greatly surprise me if you chose to quit. I know I offer much your heart desires. Power, control, and ultimately... happiness. Is that not what every being wants at their core?”

Happiness. Can he really offer that?

“One fact is certain - you can never know the answer to that if you reject this opportunity.”

He’s got me there.

The flames around us continue crackling. It’s a peaceful noise. I just wish I didn’t have such complicated issues to think about while listening to it.

“I truly should end this vision and rest now,” Kohath interrupts my thoughts. “Perhaps I do not need an answer quite yet. Instead, can you promise, at least, to still return to me someday with an answer? After He has been resurrected, perhaps? Your mind would be clearer.”

More time to think? I don’t see a problem there, even if it feels odd for him to suddenly offer it. “That I can promise,” I say, nodding.

“Thank you,” Kohath sighs. “Now I will return to my slumber, and you will awaken.”

I expect him to disappear, but his brow lowers.

"One last thing," he says. He stares straight into my eyes. "Do not bother with that brochure. Mareep have nothing to offer."

He smiles. "Farewell."

With one swoosh, all the flames go out. Darkness enshrouds me. Then a faint light awakens somewhere far away. It brightens. Comes closer. Closer.

It’s here.

I gasp, the air seeming so different. I see my backpack. I see the fossil peeking out. I’m in my room. Back in my room.

I blink. Yes, this is reality. What was that from before? It now feels like a dream. But also like I truly was there.

Hesitantly, I touch the stone again. It’s warm. Warmer than my skin. Is that a sign? There’s nothing that would have made it this warm in the physical world…

I get up and return to my bed. I can’t really describe how I feel. I guess… I guess that all just happened. I guess there really is something else to His godhood than just… the claim of its existence. And I guess there really is something beyond Him. A being from which beings like Him arise. Something like a higher god, something higher than Him, something like...

HIM?

Wait, he told me something else.

I get up and return to the bag. The brochure still lies on the floor beside it.

Do not bother… mareep have nothing to offer.

Mareep? Does that mean the others? The people unlike me? They do love being social and following each other, just like mareep…

I always thought they were stupid. Dumb herd animals. They want me to be like them, but I'm not. I'm different. But they're all the same.

They can't understand me. They think there's something wrong with me, when I'm really the only one who's sane!

These people get their joy for free. These people can't even understand how meaningless their lives are, how terrifying death is. How could they possibly help me? If I asked them, I bet they'd just tell me to make some friends. Because friendship solves everything. Love conquers all. How can they believe that shit? Right. Because they're mareep.

But, if things go like he said they would… it won't matter. Because I'll get Him back. I'll get my happiness back. Life will be worth living again.

And if the rest of what he told me is true, too...

I may just become happier than I'd ever imagined.

To hell with this brochure. It's a waste of time, a waste of thought. A waste of the tree that was chopped down to make it. A manifestation of uselessness.

I get up and walk to the trash bin. Having folded the brochure, I tear it in half and drop the pieces in the bin.

That's the end of that. Now to get the bag and go downstairs.

I have someone to resurrect.

- - -​
 
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